Comrade vs comrade in Durban




It’s shortly before midday when I arrive at the ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial headquarters in Stalwart Simelane Street, but I’ve already been on the move for a good seven hours.

A day-early print deadline to accommodate the Women’s Day public holiday on Friday means today is actually Wednesday, in production terms, so there’s been no time to mess about.

I was already wide awake when the first call of the day came, shortly after 5am. For a change, it wasn’t the Democratic Alliance trying to hustle me to vote for it in the Ward 27 by-election on Wednesday.

I moved out of the ward and headed south across the Berea a couple of years ago, but for some reason that lot have been on my case since February, when they started working the phones ahead of the May 8 election. They gave me a break for a while, but started again towards the middle of July. I hope they update their records by the time we vote again in 2021, and leave me alone.


This time the ungodly hour of the morning call was from the opposition to the opposition, as it were, but not to ask me to make an X for them.

It’s a comrade from one of the ANC structures with some dirt to pass on, chomping at the bit to convince me to put the knife into another comrade of his, from the same structure, with the info he had for me.

I’d ducked his 10pm call the night before, knowing only too well what the comrade was calling about. The two comrades, like quite a few others around the country, have fallen out of late, despite being tight back in the day. Both were part of the lobby that elected Jacob Zuma as ANC president at Polokwane in 2007 and booted out Thabo Mbeki. Both backed Zuma for a second term at Mangaung in 2012, despite the excesses of uBaba’s first term at the helm of the Republic.

But, by the time the ANC’s Nasrec conference came around in December 2017, only one of the comrades was still 100% Zuma and rooting for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the old man’s proxy for the party presidency.

The other comrade had crossed the floor, joined the CR17 campaign to elect Cyril Ramaphosa, along with his supporters in the structure they belong to. They have been locked in mortal combat ever since, both their factions claiming legitimacy and neither able to exercise any leadership. Their structure has collapsed, its future in the hands of the courts, as a result of their power struggle.

The two comrades, both of whom I’ve known since the late 1980s, have been regular callers in the last year, both keen to spill the beans on their former comrade and friend, neither willing to go on record. I’ve been pretty cautious in dealing with both. Either of them is more than capable of lying to dent the other’s image, bring him down in any way possible. Neither can really be trusted. Every assertion either of them makes about the other — about anything for that matter — has to be checked and double-checked.

I take the 5am call nonetheless — I’m up anyhow and this is what I do, after all — and file the dirt away for next week. It’s gonna take at least that long to check it all out. Perhaps even longer.

At the ANC office, provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli is purposeful as he delivers the provincial executive committee (PEC) statement after its meeting over the weekend. Ntuli is precise as he works his way through the statement.

The small crowd of journalists are reading the statement as they listen, rushing ahead to get to the part they’ve all come for: the decision on what to do with Durban mayor Zandile Gumede. By the time Ntuli gets to that part — the committee’s decided not to decide what to do about Mama, placed on leave after she was arrested over a dodgy R208-million refuse removal tender, deferring the decision to the coming weekend — half the boardroom is already on Twitter, broadcasting the non-decision.

I’m not surprised.

The PEC, like the structure to which the comrade who called early in the morning belongs, has been paralysed by the trench warfare in the ANC, with neither faction holding enough of an upper hand to force a decision either way.

Gumede’s supporters have also been gearing up for another show of strength in the city centre when she appears in court on Thursday:a decision to remove her permanently from office ahead of the appearance has the potential to kick off a small war in the streets.

Ntuli wraps up, opens questions to the floor. After the first round, I’ve had enough, hit the door and exit.

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper

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