Ex-premier frets over KZN tensions

No winners or losers: Senzo Mchunu, who is tipped to become ANC secretary general should Cyril Ramaphosa win the presidency, says the court ruling is an opportunity to seek stability in the province (Rogan Ward)

No winners or losers: Senzo Mchunu, who is tipped to become ANC secretary general should Cyril Ramaphosa win the presidency, says the court ruling is an opportunity to seek stability in the province (Rogan Ward)

There was no sense of triumphalism about former ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Senzo Mchunu on Wednesday as he reflected on the declaration by the high court in Pietermaritzburg that the conference at which he was deposed was null and void.

If anything, Mchunu — who was recalled as premier by the provincial executive committee voted in at the unlawful November 2015 conference — seems more concerned that Tuesday’s judgment and tensions between the two camps might spark violence between his supporters and those of now-illegitimate chairperson Sihle Zikalala.

“Uppermost in my mind are the ANC members who live side by side, as opposed to us as leaders,’’ he said. “At the level of leadership, you can maintain this kind of thing. Ordinary members are unable to.
They live together and socialise together.

“In an atmosphere like KwaZulu-Natal it is not desirable that you allow people to live with tensions. Any mistake that happens by way of comment when people are socialising can trigger violence,” he said.

Mchunu (59) said that rather than allowing the judgment — which the provincial leadership is determined to appeal, despite warnings to sit tight by Luthuli House — to polarise the situation further, “dialogue” needed to take place.

“We should be saying to ourselves: ‘Is this not a golden opportunity for dialogue in the province, as members of the ANC, to take out all the poison that has been sowed among us?’ 

“We need to look at ourselves, trace our steps back and look in detail as to how we got to holding an unlawful conference for the first time. If we carry on as if all is normal we will go down the drain, with the tensions as high as they are in the province.”

The order overturning the conference result came after representatives of 29 ANC branches challenged it in the high court in May after exhausting internal ANC processes (See “Optometrist with an eye for justice wins KZN battle”). They claimed the outcome had been rigged and predetermined, that branches and delegates in good standing had been barred in favour of “parallel” structures and that the conference was convened irregularly.

The court found that the applicants had not proved the rigging allegations. Four legitimate branches had been barred and a disqualified branch had been allowed to participate, although this had not materially affected the result. The conference had, however, been held unlawfully because it was not convened with the backing of a third of the ANC’s branches.

Mchunu is not planning to run as chairperson again. This could be because the former teacher, who served as ANC North Coast regional secretary after the party was unbanned, has emerged as a candidate for secretary general on deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s “core” for the December elective conference.

The court ruling has thrown the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma camp in KwaZulu-Natal — potentially her strongest ally come December — into disarray. This will boost Mchunu’s status on the Ramaphosa slate. 

Mchunu refused to discuss his role in the Ramaphosa campaign, which gained some momentum last weekend when the two appeared in public together in the Northern Cape. Until then, Mchunu had mainly shown his support at events in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The process of nomination has started. We do see ourselves attending events at which this or that comrade is addressing people. I’m not sure that this could be called campaigning. This does not detract from the fact that we will support Cyril Ramaphosa as the next president of the ANC,” he said.

“A job is not my priority issue. For a long time I didn’t have any job in the ANC. There were many incidents that could have claimed my life and that of my comrades. That there is a job over and above one’s services to the ANC is not that important at all,” he said.

During the height of the state-sponsored political violence between the Inkatha Freedom Party and the ANC in the 1990s, Mchunu and fellow North Coast trade unionists Willies Mchunu and Bheki Ntuli were targets of assassination attempts. Mchunu’s home in Hlabisa in Zululand, where he was born, was also attacked.

These experiences — and the complex peace process that brought the violence under control — appear to have influenced his approach to contemporary events. The current conflict in the ANC has been accompanied by a wave of political killings, and Premier Willies Mchunu has appointed a commission of inquiry into the assassinations.

“We had stability in the ANC, and in the province, up until the time it got disturbed in 2013,” Senzo Mchunu said. “We need that stability and unity back. This is only achievable if we sober up. There is no winner and no loser in this judgment, just an opportunity that we have to use.”

His supporters believe his two terms as ANC KwaZulu-Natal secretary, plus his stint as regional secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, make him an ideal secretary general candidate. They also point to the ANC’s growth in the province under his stewardship.

For now, however, Mchunu appears more focused on dealing with the impasse between his supporters and those of Zikalala, who declared their intent to defy ANC officials and appeal immediately.

“Right now we need to hold. The legal process has taken place and the court has ruled that the conference was unlawful. It is now time to deal with the political side of things.”

Mchunu declined to say whether he would stand should a rerun of the conference take place. “We will cross that bridge if and when we get there. I believe that we are very far from there. This is not about running and winning. You can rerun and rerun but if the organisation is not there, it is all a waste of time. If there is not a political process, we will end up with the 2015 situation all over again,” he said.

“We need to be highly sensitive to that aspect of things. We need dialogue among ourselves as ANC members for the future of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal.”

Vryheid ANC councillor Lawrence Dube, who brought the application to annul the conference result, believes Mchunu’s sense of integrity and technical skill make him a solid candidate for party secretary general.

“He is a no-nonsense person who will bring a sense of integrity to the ANC. He is a former secretary of KwaZulu-Natal and is very good with the branches. We need somebody who is focused and who is good administratively,” he said.

“When we went to Polokwane, KwaZulu-Natal was united into a single solid bloc. He was the secretary who delivered that. He was able to unite all the branches and work with the other provinces.”

Dube says Mchunu’s refusal to take a “golden handshake” in the form of a seat in the National Assembly showed great character.

“He could have thought of his stomach. He didn’t. When he was recalled, he just kept quiet and stayed unemployed. We need such principled people ahead of 2019.”

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