An ANC member carrying a tray of smouldering impepho marched up the path to the entrance of the high court in Pietermaritzburg shortly before the lunch break on Wednesday.
Flanked by two other ANC members bearing handwritten placards, he called on his ancestors for strength. The three approached the security contingent blocking the entrance while the yellow-shirted crowd outside picked up the pace of their toyi-toyi.
It was reminiscent of September 2006. Then, the smell of impepho burned by KwaZulu-Natal ANC members filled the air as a failed corruption case against Jacob Zuma was turned into a launchpad for his first run for the ANC presidency. The granting of a permanent stay of prosecution by Judge Qedusizi Msimang transformed the Market Square in front of the court into an ocean of yellow as the ANC in the province flexed its muscles.
United behind their choice of president, the KwaZulu-Natal ANC was the engine of the machine that swung the party’s Polokwane conference in Zuma’s favour the following December. Provincial leaders including Bheki Cele, Senzo Mchunu, Zweli Mkhize and then ANC Youth League secretary Sihle Zikalala rallied the province behind Zuma. Recruits swelled the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal ranks as it marched into the conference with only one of its branches backing Zuma’s adversary, Thabo Mbeki.
Back to Wednesday.
Inside the court, Zikalala and ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma were listening intently to the legal team of Vryheid ANC councillor Lawrence Dube and other members who are challenging the election of Zikalala and Zuma to their party positions in November 2015.
Dube, a supporter of ousted provincial chair Senzo Mchunu, wants the conference rerun, claiming it was rigged. Dube and his comrades claim legitimate delegates backing Mchunu were kept out and that the voting was manipulated to favour Zikalala.
Zikalala’s legal team argues that Dube and his fellow applicants don’t have legal standing to make the claim and missed the 180-day deadline to submit it to the high court. Judge Sharmaine Balton will have to make a decision in this trial within a trial before the actual case will be heard.
The impepho-bearing man almost made it to the courtroom door before security guards realised what was going on. He was not calling on the ancestors to support Zuma and the sitting ANC leadership — he was begging them to drive Zuma and the Gupta family out of the ANC. One placard read: “Run Zuma Run.”
An enraged ANC bodyguard surged forward. He upended the tray, spraying burning embers across the pathway. The protesters were forced back down the path with hot klaps. They retreated, their point made.
In the street, a wall of nose-to-nose armoured police vehicles cut the square in half. To the left, supporters of the sitting provincial executive committee had set up shop with a stage, marquee, banging sound system and a food truck. Most supporters were in T-shirts with Zuma’s face.
To the right of the mobile barricade, Mchunu’s supporters were gathered in equal numbers, singing for his return. In contrast, their placards were handwritten. Half the T-shirts were South African Communist Party red; most had Cyril Ramaphosa’s “CR17 Siyavuma” campaign slogans on them. Throughout, a man with a megaphone kept the crowd abreast of proceedings inside.
When Zikalala arrived to address the crowd, he tore into Mchunu’s supporters for retaining Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, who he calls an “EFF advocate”, before turning on Bheki Cele, his 2006 ally, for his weekend comments to Umlazi ANC branches that they should continue with their court cases “until we learn to lead”.
As evident as the rift in the KwaZulu-Natal ANC is, some observers believe that, come December, Zikalala and Super Zuma will unite the 500-odd branch delegates the province will take to the ANC conference behind would-be party president Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The KwaZulu-Natal ANC presented a united front at Polokwane and Mangaung, but the purging of key leaders, such as Mchunu and provincial executive committee members Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni, is likely to be felt in December. Mchunu has started openly campaigning for Ramaphosa, addressing a meeting on the South Coast last week, and his supporters have been building up a support base for the Ramaphosa campaign in at least three other ANC regions.
The recent by-election in Nquthu, which the ANC lost, was used as a way to test the political waters in the province for Ramaphosa.
“Things will be different this time around,’’ said an ANC member of the provincial legislature involved in the Ramaphosa campaign. “There is no way the province will back Dlamini-Zuma 100% this time.”
But, said Xolani Dube of the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, although the ANC in the province is divided, the Zikalala faction will maintain control ahead of the national conference.
“The divisions in the province are very evident, from the case itself to the regalia and songs,” Dube said. “However, in the past we have seen division in the province but unity when their delegations go national.
‘’We have seen this time and again. At the policy conference, KwaZulu-Natal went there talking in unison and with one voice, defending each other and very forcefully setting the platform for a Dlamini-Zuma presidential campaign,” said Dube. “The division we thought would be displayed … did not materialise.’’
He also believes the absence of ANC national executive committee members who were deployed to oversee the 2015 conference is “significant”; it appears that “the NEC has washed its hands of this matter”.
Dube said, even if there is a court ruling against Zikalala, the matter will not be concluded by December.
“Even if there is a ruling against the Zikalala grouping, they have every right to take the matter on appeal right up to the Supreme Court of Appeal and there is no way this process will be exhausted before December. As a result, they will go into the conference with their hands on the levers of power,” he says.
Dube believes that, by suspending the party leadership in four regions where Ramaphosa activists have been lobbying, the Zikalala grouping would be able to influence the outcome of the regional conferences being held from next weekend.
“They have already started disbanding those regions that are against them. A team of 500 delegates is a small number for the ANC leadership to manage. Most of them are councillors or government officials or tenderpreneurs, and they all know where their bread is buttered. They may not be in favour of Dlamini-Zuma but they are in favour of their own survival and will vote accordingly,” he says.
Dlamini-Zuma’s KZN cheerleaders lobby hard
Despite the legal challenge to the legitimacy of the ANC leadership in KwaZulu-Natal, it is pushing ahead with its programme to lobby other provinces to back Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the ANC presidency in December.
On Monday the KwaZulu-Natal provincial working committee, led by chairperson Sihle Zikalala and secretary Super Zuma, met their Free State counterparts in Durban to lobby support for Dlamini-Zuma and to discuss key policy proposals regarding the mining and other sectors of the economy.
They agreed to continue with their defence of President Jacob Zuma, both in countering the opposition and in taking on his critics in the ruling party.
A KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson said the two committees agreed to back the call for an “urgent investigation’’ into those believed to have voted for the August 3 vote of no confidence in the president.
They would also continue to push the idea, recently motivated by the Zuma camp, that defeated candidates will still serve in the ANC’s top six — an apparent bid to ensure that Dlamini-Zuma will have a post if she is not elected president of the party (and in effect president of the country).
The KwaZulu-Natal contingent recently had a meeting with Mpumalanga’s provincial executive in a bid to rein in Mpumalanga chairperson David Mabuza, who has appeared on a slate headed by deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa. This followed the KwaZulu-Natal leaders’ meeting with Gauteng, which is swinging in favour of Ramaphosa.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Mdumiseni Ntuli said the province would meet North West leaders next in a bid to get them to back Dlamini-Zuma. And next month they are to hold meetings with the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape leaders.
“We will continue with our programme of meeting with other provinces to discuss areas of common approach and discuss issues of common concern,’’ Ntuli said.
He added that KwaZulu-Natal’s programme of regional conferences would kick off in October, with the Ukhahlamba region already signed off by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
Ntuli defended the dissolution of the party’s Emalahleni regional leadership and the removal of administrative functions from the Lower South Coast, Far North and Harry Gwala regions ahead of their conferences.
He said that, although the move meant the province would take over the branch general meetings to select delegates for the regional and national conferences, it would be supervised by deployees from head office.
“We removed functions from the regions when it became clear that there would not be the capacity to preside over a region conference of the ANC and come up with a credible outcome,’’ he said. — Paddy Harper