Would-be ANC secretary general Senzo Mchunu’s face was a stony mask when he marched off the podium at the governing party’s elective conference on Sunday night.
Having received the most branch nominations for the position, Mchunu had been carried to the stage on the shoulders of his supporters, who were convinced that they had won the day against ANC Free State chairperson Ace Magashule.
Two counts of the 4 708 votes cast for secretary general had returned Mchunu, 59, the former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson, to the post.
A third count, which caused an hour-long delay as the steering committee responsible for running the conference slugged it out over whether to allow 68 votes by delegates who did not appear on the voters roll, was a mere formality.
But as they reached the podium, they found Magashule had won, beating Mchunu by 24 votes, taking 2 336.
A visibly embarrassed Mchunu left the stage. His aspirations to the secretary general’s office, payback for his role in derailing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the presidency by splitting the 480 KwaZulu-Natal ANC branches, appeared to be over.
It was a cruel outcome for Mchunu, who, along with the branches backing him, managed to unseat the KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial executive committee (PEC). The enforcement of a high court order that forced the PEC out of office by Mchunu’s supporters on the eve of conference removed it as a voting bloc but also struck a psychological blow against the Dlamini-Zuma camp, coming as it did with a similar ruling against Magashule and his PEC.
But Mchunu did not take the defeat lying down and threats of legal action in effect brought the conference to a halt while the steering committee debated what to do with the votes.
The committee was split down the middle, with the bulk of the provinces wanting to include them. ANC North West chairperson Supra Mahumapelo, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte were among those who argued against it. Two days of negotiations ensued, delaying the process of voting for the additional 80 national executive committee (NEC) members.
An agreement was eventually reached to admit only 15 of the 68 votes, which made no material difference to the result. The steering committee ruled that the 15 were legitimate delegates but that the balance were bogus. The names of the 68 had not been on the voters’ roll despite them having received proper branch mandates and holding proper branch general meetings.
ANC sources said that Ramaphosa had met Mchunu to reassure and convince him not to go to court. “It was important that he got that reassurance and expression of confidence from his president,” a source close to the process said. “Now there will be a process of engaging the comrades backing him in the provinces to convince them to stand down.”
Another source said: “Senzo is angry over losing out because he knows he won fair and square. I can understand why — they robbed him as provincial chairperson and now they are robbing him again. He agreed because he didn’t want to be blamed for collapsing conference.”
But Mchunu’s secretary general bid may not be over. On Wednesday, lawyers representing three of the delegates served the ANC with a letter demanding that it include their votes or face high court action.
In the letter, lawyers for Metse Ramahuma, Vincent Seemola, Rehab Leso and the 65 other delegates said the refusal to count their votes was a violation of their rights in terms of the ANC constitution. The letter gave the ANC until 2pm to present the dispute to the plenary to allow the branches to decide whether to include their votes. It said the decision to allow only 15 of the votes to be counted was “wholly unlawful” because “our clients are delegates from branches in good standing and were elected at properly constituted branch general meetings”.
It added that Ramahuma and his colleagues did not want to go to court but they would approach the high court for an order to force the steering committee to put the matter to the delegates. “In the meantime, it will be prudent if this matter gets resolved urgently by recounting the votes,” the letter said. It further demanded that Magashule’s election be set aside and that the votes be recounted.
A second letter from a group of 12 delegates from the Abaqulusi ANC region in KwaZulu-Natal also threatens the party with action should their votes not be counted. It also demands that the announcement of a new NEC be halted until the 68 could vote.