As the ANC gears up for the rerun of its KwaZulu-Natal provincial congress later this month, former Durban mayor James Nxumalo is being punted as a potential candidate for chairperson by supporters of President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Nxumalo would be up against Sihle Zikalala, an ally of former president Jacob Zuma. The chairperson will become the province’s premier.
Mike Mabuyakhulu, convener of the provincial task team appointed to oversee the court-prescribed rerun, had been the first choice of the Ramaphosa camp but Nxumalo is now being considered because of corruption charges laid in February against Mabuyakhulu shortly after his appointment.
The charges relate to the payment of R28-million by the KwaZulu-Natal economic development ministry, which he headed, to consultants for a jazz festival that never took place. He was released on bail of R50 000.
The case has been adjourned until August 22, when a date will be set for the matter to be heard by the high court in Durban.
Mabuyakhulu had been axed as MEC in a purge by Zuma supporters after the November 2015 provincial conference, which was last year ruled as unlawful by the high court in Pietermaritzburg. Zikalala, who was elected as chairperson at the annulled conference, replaced him as MEC. Mabuyakhulu had co-ordinated Ramaphosa’s campaign in KwaZulu-Natal ahead of December’s ANC elective conference and emerged as the favourite to stand as chair on the Ramaphosa ticket when the rerun took place.
The decision by the ANC national working committee last week that the province and its regions could go ahead with their elective conferences has put pressure on the Ramaphosa camp, which had been hoping that the NWC would recommend to the national executive committee (NEC) that the conferences be postponed until next year.
“We have been discussing alternative candidates because of this situation,” said an MPL involved in the Ramaphosa campaign. “It is a tough call, but it is difficult for us to go forward with Mike with the charges. We also have to consider the elections next year and the issue of having a premier candidate with pending corruption charges. It is a tough decision but it has to be taken.”
The MPL said that Nxumalo, the former eThekwini chairperson who was ousted by the sitting chairperson and mayor, Zandile Gumede, would “most likely” be their candidate at the provincial conference, which will be held in June if the NEC gives it the nod.But the former eThekwini mayor might find it difficult to garner enough support to win, because he would have only one month to campaign, said an alliance leader sympathetic to Ramaphosa.
“Should the conference sit in June, he [Nxumalo] will have no time to campaign. He will be left with May only to campaign.
“They [the Zikalala camp] are pushing very hard that the regional conferences sit now so that the provincial conference happens before the end of June.
“They are confident that they are going to win the provincial conference in this current arrangement because, between Nasrec and now, nothing has changed. They are using the same audits, which was in their advantage when they isolated many structures and dissolved many branches. Those structures haven’t as yet recovered,” said the alliance leader.
The KwaZulu-Natal regional conferences are likely to begin this weekend, kicking off with KwaDukuza, Far North, eMalahleni and Moses Mabhida. The balance will take place next weekend.
The MPL said Nxumalo had performed well as mayor of Durban and had a strong constituency, which he had maintained while chairperson of the South African Communist Party in the province. — Additional reporting by Matuma Letsoalo