Top ANC man Sihle Zikalala weathers KZN storm

Sihle Zikalala says his election, which has led to ructions in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, was above board and ‘guided by the constitution and principles’ of the ANC. (Lisa Skinner)

Sihle Zikalala says his election, which has led to ructions in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, was above board and ‘guided by the constitution and principles’ of the ANC. (Lisa Skinner)

In the month since Sihle Zikalala was unexpectedly elected ANC chairperson in KwaZulu-Natal, party members have twice marched on the ANC’s provincial headquarters, with thousands showing their support for embattled premier and ousted ANC provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu.

Disgruntled ANC members have also threatened to march to the party’s national headquarters, Luthuli House in Johannesburg, if their demands are not met, including that the election Mchunu lost must be rerun. Zikalala spoke to the Mail & Guardian about the election and other issues this week.

Do you support calls for the elective conference to be rerun?
It is not for me to respond to that call because the appeals have been directed to the national leadership. But according to all of us who were in the previous PEC [provincial executive committee] such a call will be baseless because the conference went smoothly and was guided by the constitution and principles of the organisation.

Why are so many ANC branches in the province, and union federation Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP), unhappy about your election?
An overwhelming number of the branches in the province support, and have full confidence in, the recently elected provincial executive committee.
I am not aware of any comrades from Cosatu and the SACP who are not happy with the outcomes of the conference.

Senzo Mchunu’s supporters claim you manipulated the outcome of the leadership contest. 
It was not my intention nor possible for anyone to manipulate the outcome of the election of the provincial executive committee. The conference was presided over by the national executive committee and not me. Second, all of us who were in the committee were fully part of preparations for the conference. I’m also not aware of anybody in the ANC who is called a “Mchunu supporter” as your question suggests. Comrade Senzo is a member of the ANC who, like me, was nominated for the position of provincial chairperson by ANC branches.

We understand that the tension between you and Mchunu is so serious that you are no longer on speaking terms.
It is a pure fabrication that myself and comrade Macing­wane [Mchunu] were, or are not, on speaking terms. I am not aware of any tension as a result of the contestation at the provincial conference. Both of us understood very well from the beginning, when branches nominated us for the same position, that only one of us would be elected, and that, whatever the outcome, the movement will always expect us to work together.

Are you ready to be deployed in government either as premier or MEC given that the chairperson position is not full-time and you would not be drawing a salary?
As you may know, the ANC provincial executive committee has decided to deploy me as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature. I am indeed humbled by the ANC decision and determined to meet the expectations of the ANC leadership. In so far as the executive council is concerned, I do not discuss speculation.

Were you surprised when Cosatu members attending the federation’s 30th anniversary celebration in Durban at the weekend booed you and members of the ANC provincial executive committee?
Given the current political developments in the province, where you have a group of people who are marching against the ANC, I was not entirely indifferent to the possibility of such characters also showing up at Cosatu’s 30th anniversary. But I am certain that the overwhelming membership of Cosatu who attended the event and those who might have watched it on TV found that conduct to be unpalatable and abhorrent, to say the least.

Do you think it was planned to embarrass you?
The manifestation of that conduct and how it evolved and concluded reflected some clandestine, predetermined behaviour. But if you are [in] leadership you know that, at times, you have to confront such situations.

It appears that there are serious tensions between you and the communists in the tripartite alliance. Why is that?
I have no tensions with any of the communists. I’m a member of the SACP myself.

You refused to shake the hand of Senzeni Zokwana, the SACP chairperson and ANC national executive committee member, at the provincial conference. Why?
[This] had absolutely nothing to do with any tension between myself and communists. I had set my eyes on someone else and didn’t see him reaching out to shake my hand at that time. [We both] acknowledged [the incident] as an honest mistake and are disappointed that the media has chosen to sensationalise it.

Do you support a call for a woman candidate to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president in 2017?
The decision of who becomes the next ANC president will be taken by ANC structures at the appropriate time. The ANC will choose, as it has done before, a suitable comrade from among its cadres to lead as president, irrespective of their gender.

Cosatu believes that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is the right person to succeed Jacob Zuma as president. Do you agree?
At an appropriate time the ANC will open processes for all of us who are members of the ANC to openly state our views on who should lead the ANC from 2017, going forward. Anybody who declares their support for [any specific] leaders now has the intention to deflect the movement from its urgent task – the local government elections.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004. Read more from Matuma Letsoalo

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