Boost for Zuma faction as KZN conferences are greenlit

Short-lived jubilation: The Pietermaritzburg high court’s decision last year to nullify the ANC’s provincial structure in KwaZulu-Natal seems a distant memory as new battle lines are drawn. (Rogan Ward)

Short-lived jubilation: The Pietermaritzburg high court’s decision last year to nullify the ANC’s provincial structure in KwaZulu-Natal seems a distant memory as new battle lines are drawn. (Rogan Ward)

The upcoming KwaZulu-Natal ANC provincial and regional conferences have been given the go-ahead by the party’s national working committee (NWC) — a major boost for supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, who have been pushing for the elective meetings to be held this year.

Although the NWC’s recommendation must still be ratified by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), the decision gives the Zuma faction in the province impetus in its bid to re-establish a base from which to stage a fightback campaign ahead of the party’s 2022 national conference.

This comes after supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa had staged protest marches in several KwaZulu-Natal regions. They claimed that the provincial interim committee — appointed in January to oversee the processes for holding the provincial conference and nine regional conferences — had failed to stop obstructive action by Zuma supporters who had backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed him as ANC president in December.

Ramaphosa’s supporters had also asked that the interim committee be replaced with a task team — with an 18-month lifespan rather than three months — and that the branch membership numbers be audited afresh.

Their call — and several incidents of gatekeeping involving armed bodyguards of sitting MECs and mayors who stopped Ramaphosa supporters from attending regional meetings — resulted in the interim committee postponing the conferences indefinitely.

In September, the high court in Pietermaritzburg ruled that the KwaZulu-Natal conference and its decisions, including the election of Sihle Zikalala as chairperson, were unlawful. In January, the NEC appointed a provincial interim committee consisting of leaders of both factions to oversee the running of a new conference. 

But Ramaphosa supporters have claimed that the Zuma-backing incumbents in the regions and the province have used their administrative control of structures to manipulate the process once again.

On Sunday, the NWC split up and held meetings with all 11 ANC regions in KwaZulu-Natal, nine of which are scheduled to hold their conferences soon.

Ramaphosa supporters in the Moses Mabhida region clashed with ANC security officials and bodyguards in Pietermaritzburg during such a meeting. In Durban, eThekwini region members sang songs defending Zuma, joined by NWC member Nomvula Mokonyane, during a consultation with Ramaphosa.

But on Monday ANC secretary general Ace Magashule told a briefing in Durban that, even though there had been “some challenges”, the process towards holding the conferences was still on track.

“We are all agreeing throughout the regions that we are ready for regional conferences. We are ready for provincial conferences. We are ready and happy that our structures are busy ensuring that there’s unity and cohesion in the province,” Magashule said.

They were “highly impressed” by the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal leadership’s work to unify the province. “There are some challenges but we are not tiring. The provincial task team comrades are working together to forge unity so that we are able to score a decisive victory in elections next year,” Magashule said.

Lawrence Dube, the Vryheid ANC councillor who brought the high court action to oust Zikalala as the party’s provincial leader, said he was “not satisfied” with the decisions “because most of those who were most vocal at the forums this weekend were not branch chairpersons and secretaries.

“The regions controlled access and people who were not meant to be there were allowed.” He said that, in his region, AbaQulusi, the meeting was changed late on Friday night from Saturday to Sunday, which meant secretaries and chairpersons who had set up branch general meetings for Sunday were unable to attend. The process was manipulated, just like the BGM [branch general meeting] processes. Those who are pushing for conference know they have manipulated the processes and have been gatekeeping,” Dube said.

“For the first two months, the PIC [provincial interim committee] didn’t do any work. Then it was balanced and worked for a month. But by then all the membership audits and other processes had been completed, so there was no work for the balanced PIC to do. The process was over,” Dube said.

“What happened to the more than 200 branches that complained? We are told this is democratic, but it is a skewed democracy.”

He said his “last hope” was that the ANC’s national executive committee would reject the national working committee recommendations.

“We are hoping that the NEC will realise that the NWC has not done justice here and in other provinces, and will decide to put the conferences on hold. If they don’t, it means that the thugs have won.”

The conversion of the interim committee into a task team would give the NEC the option to postpone the conferences until after the 2019 elections because of the longer lifespan the ANC constitution gives the interim leadership structure.

Dube said he would approach the NEC on the matter.

“Just now we will be going straight from conferences to the election campaign. We should rather fight the election and then resolve the provincial issues. The way things are, we face a situation where these people will win provincial political power in the ANC while losing the province and administrative power to the IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party],” he said.

Meanwhile, ANC branches in Gauteng were scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss preparations for conferences for five of its regions.

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