He has been elected but now he wants unity in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal.
The chairperson of the ANC’s strongest province, Sihle Zikalala, emphatically told delegates at the KwaZulu-Natal conference that the only winner after a gruelling vote was the ANC.
But his supporters were jubilant on Sunday morning, celebrating his victory, after a slate vote resulted in Zikalala beating former chairperson Senzo Mchunu by 105 votes.
Elections officials who presided over the long voting process announced that Zikalala garnered 780 votes while Mchunu trailed behind with 675 votes.
Zikalala was seen to have the backing of senior ANC leaders, including party president Jacob Zuma and treasurer General Zweli Mkhize.
He has also been seen to be backed by three other chairpersons of ANC provinces – loosely known as the premier league.
In a fight that tore the province apart, both Zikalala and Mchunu fought hard for the coveted position as provincial chair – often seen as a kingmaker position in ANC politics.
A die-hard supporter of Zikalala remarked: “We won this whole conference!” while waving a flag enthusiastically after the outcomes of the vote was announced.
He wasn’t wrong: The other four top positions were also won by members seen to be in Zikalala’s camp.
Super Zuma, the former regional chairperson of the Moses Mabhida region, was voted in as provincial secretary.
Harry Gwala district municipality mayor Mluleki Ndobe is to serve as Zuma’s deputy.
Willies Mchunu, the transport minister for the province, will remain in his position as deputy chairperson after fending off a challenge by Peggy Nkonyeni, now the education minister for the province.
The provincial treasurer is KwaZulu-Natal’s local government minister Nomsa Dube.
While more than a third of delegates were supporters of Mchunu, delegates were urged to embrace the new leadership and work towards unity.
The ANC’s national executive committee conceded that the leadership race was “intense and highly contested” while congratulating the new leaders.
NEC members, led by deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize had their work cut out for them over the three day conference which was marred with divisions and factionalism.
“The NEC also had to confront ill-discipline characterised by … filibustering by some delegates,” Duarte said in a statement.
She said the NEC expects, by the end of conference, that all lobby groups who campaigned for individuals should be dissolved and “all contesting comrades to work together to lead the ANC structures in the province as well as the alliance”.
Duarte noted that the new leaders would be expected to provide much-needed leadership to unite the organisation in the province.
But while leaders are pushing for unity, lobbyists already have their eyes on the ANC 2017 national elective conference.
KwaZulu-Natal has always been influential in deciding who leads the party and whether they are divided or not, that is a position the ANC in the province is not willing to give up.