The day the hyphen began shifting for KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC

Tuesday: It’s judgment day for the high court challenge to the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference. The two weeks since the matter was argued before a full Bench in Pietermaritzburg seem like a decade. Daily false alarms. Countless calls to ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma. I was starting to feel like a real Muppet by the time the heads-up came on Monday.

It’s also 40 years since the National Party murdered Steve Biko. Snuffed his life out for fear of his mind. More than two decades after the ANC replaced the Nats and September 12 is still not a public holiday. We have a fucking National Braai Day, but no Biko Day. That’s not cool. Maybe Biko’s thoughts and his legacy make the ANC as nervous as they did the Nats. Or something along those lines.

It’s just before 8am. Durban’s already a furnace. There’s not enough space for the three large women already spread across the back seat of the taxi. I squeeze my less-than-svelte form between them and the window. The sliding door slams. We move.

My seat mates are all wearing traditional attire for a function they’re attending. They start rapping about nursing management. And doctors. There are no posts for black doctors and nurses. All the jobs are given to “amakula” and “makwerekwere”.

A lifetime later, we debus in Pietermaritzburg. The rank is in front of the court. There’s a police cordon and a water cannon, and a line of armoured vehicles.


Recalled premier Senzo Mchunu’s supporters have set up shop. There are lots of South African Communist Party and South African National Civic Organisation T-shirts, with “CR17 Siyavuma” caps everywhere.

There’s a big empty space on the right where Super’s supporters had been during the earlier hearings. There’s no sound truck and mobile stage. No public toilets. No mobile wellness clinic. Nothing. Weird.

There’s a body search outside the court complex. Another one inside.

Judgment’s being handed down in the motion court. The public gallery’s empty, save for some applicants and their supporters. None of the ANC provincial lahnees. No Super. No Sihle Zikalala. No Willies Mchunu. Leadership dololo. Weirder still.

The well for the legal teams is overflowing. There are black robes and file boxes everywhere. It looks like the lawyers’ lawyers have lawyers.

The media section is just as bad. I get a seat on the floor next to the witness box under the air conditioning.

The judge’s secretary shushes us. Judge Jerome Mnguni takes his seat and starts reading. The compressor on the aircon kicks in. The entire courtroom’s leaning forward, straining to hear. Nobody can.

Mnguni reads the two-paragraph order, stands up and leaves. There’s a stunned silence. Then a mad scramble of media types to the secretary’s bench to see the order.

The penny drops. The conference and its decisions are unlawful. Null and void. One of the applicants starts ululating.

This is a massive blow for way more than the credibility of Zikalala, Mchunu and Super Zuma. They have been lining up the province — and its 800-odd branches — behind the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma presidential campaign. If they’re booted out of office, they can’t swing the province. And they might end up watching the December conference on TV.

The ruling means they can’t run the process by which KwaZulu-Natal’s ANC branches elect their delegates to the national conference. Luthuli House will have to step in. Appoint a task team. Audit the branch membership figures again. Run the process of general meetings and delegate selection. Oversee 10 regional conferences before the end of October, and rerun the provincial conference.

Suddenly, the likelihood of 800 branch delegates voting as a united bloc for the candidate Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters call “the hyphenated Zuma” seems a little less certain than it did weeks ago. Things just got interesting.

Outside the court, provincial ANC spokesperson Mdumiseni Ntuli is being mobbed by media.

Willies, Super and Sihle are all chilling somewhere, watching TV and sipping iced drinks, maybe getting a foot massage. Ntuli’s sweating his ass off in the sun, cleaning up their mess with a hedgehog of microphones stuck up his nose and egg all over his face.

Ntuli gives it a fair effort: the provincial executive committee is still in office. The Cabinet reshuffle won’t be unshuffled. The centre is holding.

Ntuli’s lips are moving. His eyes aren’t. His face is stone. He looks like he wishes the ANC government had declared Biko Day a holiday.

I head across the square back to the taxi rank.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
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