A few minutes after ANC secretary general Ace Magashule wrapped up a meeting with KwaZulu-Natal’s interim leadership team last Tuesday, the party’s provincial youth leaders pulled him aside.
ANC Youth League provincial secretary Thanduxolo Sabelo and chairperson Kwazi Mshengu, Magashule’s fellow campaigners in December’s failed bid to elect Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as ANC president, asked him to address a youth league event in Pietermaritzburg the following Sunday.
Magashule was quick to agree, suggesting they change the poster for the event, at which former KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala was scheduled to speak, to include himself and interim leadership member Mike Mabuyakhulu.
The 16-member interim provincial task team was appointed to rerun the party’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial elective conference after it was declared null and void by a court order. The task team appointed by Magashule included members from both factions in the province. Mabuyakhulu had just been appointed as its convener and Zikalala, removed from office by the high court’s order last September, as its co-ordinator.
Sabelo and Mshengu both shook their heads. Magashule would share the bill with Zikalala and the youth. Mabuyakhulu, part of the faction backing former provincial chairperson Senzo Mchunu, ousted by Zikalala’s slate at the unlawful 2015 election conference, would not be invited to speak — let alone placed on the poster for the event.
The Zikalala faction’s men on the ground had made it clear: there was no way that platforms it controlled would be shared with the Mchunu faction in the interest of building unity in the ANC. Magashule grinned, confirmed his attendance and headed off with his security detail in tow.
The unity Magashule had been preaching about at the press briefing minutes before was either hollow or it had evaporated before he could reach the lift on the second floor of Durban’s Coastlands conference centre, the venue chosen to host the meeting instead of the ANC’s provincial office.
While the province remains one of the largest in terms of ANC members, it has lost much of its influence through the internal succession battle over who would replace Jacob Zuma as party president. The division in the province was such that it failed to deliver its chosen presidential candidate or even elect a representative to the party’s top six. Mchunu’s bid to become secretary general was derailed by his own comrades from KwaZulu-Natal.
Magashule had told the media the provincial task team needed to act quickly to oversee the election of a new leadership in the province. With national elections coming in 2019, there was “no time” to waste.
In 2014, the ANC took 64.5% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal and in 2016, it managed to retain the eThekwini metro, one of the last major metros the party controls.
The governing party has looked to KwaZulu-Natal to boost its national election figures for the past decade and can ill afford to go into the 2019 poll with the two factions at each other’s throats.
By the time Magashule took the platform at the rally, held in the Pietermaritzburg City Hall, a backlash against the appointment of the provincial task team had already gained momentum in the province.
Supporters of Mchunu had rejected the composition of the task team, which was dominated by members of the unlawful Zikalala provincial executive committee, and had asked the ANC national working committee to intervene at its meeting on Monday.
By Saturday, disgruntled eThekwini branches had marched in the city. They wanted the provincial task team replaced with ANC veterans and other party leaders with no interest in the positions up for grabs in the rerun, which needs to be held within three months.
Magashule had argued the decision to suspend the provincial executive committee, with a three-month deadline to replace it, was a better move than dissolving it, which would have left nine months in which to hold another conference.
The Mchunu supporters also challenged this, arguing that an intensive membership audit and a new credentials process were needed to undo the membership gatekeeping that they said took place ahead of the ANC’s national elective conference in December.
Lawrence Dube, the Mchunu-supporting ANC Vryheid councillor who led the court action that deposed Zikalala, said the national working committee should “act soberly” and intervene in the composition of the provincial task team.
“They [the national working committee] need to choose people with no interest in this particular leadership contestation but who are involved in the leadership of the ANC. Instead of choosing members of both factions and loading it in favour of one, it is my view that we need people who do not have a vested interest, like the veterans. They should be working with the national executive committee (NEC) members deployed to assist in the province,” Dube said.
The idea of suspending the provincial executive committee rather than dissolving it and trying to rerun the conference within three months was ridiculous, he said.
“There are branches that have been excluded [and] comrades who had been forced out of branches through gatekeeping. There are ghost branches. Three months is not long enough to deal with the mess,” Dube said.
On Saturday, Dube’s branch and others in the Vryheid subregion refused to allow former ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma to address them.
“We made it clear that we did not want the structure to address us because of the way in which the meeting had been called,” Dube said.
“The meeting was meant to have consisted of branch chairpersons and secretaries but was crowded with elements that were not supposed to be there. There were also no NEC members present to take
our questions. Comrades started singing and he [Super Zuma] had to leave.”
On the other side of the AbaQulusi region, at eDumbe, branches backing the Zikalala faction gave former education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni — who was axed along with Mchunu and Mabuyakhulu and who is now a provincial task team member — a rough time when she tried
to address a similar subregional meeting.
Nkonyeni, however, managed to finish addressing the meeting, briefing chairs and secretaries on the deadlines for branch general meetings. They will be held from March 1 in preparation for the regional conferences — set for April 14 and 15 — and the provincial conference, which will be held from April 27 to 29.
At the rally on Sunday, Magashule abandoned all pretence of selling unity, leading delegates in songs lashing out at “sellouts”, an apparent reference to ANC deputy president David Mabuza, whose “unity” delegates swung the December conference in favour of electing Cyril Ramaphosa as president.
Magashule told the crowd that Zuma would complete his term as president of the country and contradicted other NEC members who had indicated that the new party leadership wanted Zuma gone.
Magashule went further, calling on ANC members from the province to “stay focused”, in an apparent call on them to make another bid for power at the 2022 party conference.
“Stay focused … the ANC we know is going to come back. It’s just a matter of five years,” Magashule said. “Conference happens after each and every five years, so let’s work hard.”
At the national working committee meeting on Monday, Magashule is understood to have defended the composition of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial task team — and a second team appointed in the Free State, where his election as chairperson had been set aside by the high court — arguing that it was his right as secretary general to determine who was, and wasn’t, appointed.
He is also understood to have continued to argue in favour of Zuma finishing his term as president, despite the national working committee having, according to sources, reached “consensus” that Zuma should be asked by the top six to resign before the State of the Nation address next Thursday.
On Tuesday, ANC eThekwini branches marched again in the city, this time to the ANC provincial office at Pixley ka Seme House, where Mabuyakhulu and Zikalala were meeting.
The protesters held a brief discussion with the two, who agreed to meet formally with them next week to discuss their grievances, after which they hope to continue with the provincial task team’s work.
On Wednesday, ANC spokesperson Khusela Diko declined to comment on the outcome of the national working committee meeting, saying the ANC did so “only under exceptional circumstances”.
“We are not of an opinion that there was any need to issue a statement,” she said.
Diko said the two provincial task teams “are still in place in the form in which they were announced”.
“If there is anything that needs to be done [to change their composition], the leadership will look at it, keeping in mind our commitment to unity and renewal of the movement,’’ she said.