There’s a small army of police officers camped outside the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial office in Stalwart Simelane Street in Durban. They’re pretty heavily tooled up; vans filled with riot gear are parked outside the front entrance to Pixley ka Seme House. There’s a mix of public order and regular cops, as well as a large crew of bodyguards assigned to the party leaders meeting inside. Despite their numbers, they’re looking nervous, craning their necks to check for any hostile crowd moving towards the governing party headquarters from the central business district.
Like us, the cops are here for the announcement by the ANC’s provincial leaders as to what they are going to do with eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede. Mama, as she’s known, is out on bail of R50 000 over a bent R208-million Durban Solid Waste tender, which she and her bras allegedly manipulated to milk the city for rubbish that was never removed.
They Babylon are expecting a backlash from Gumede’s supporters when the ANC announces that they’ve fired Mama. Her private army has already trashed the city several times since the ANC placed her on leave at the end of May. They’ve threatened to unleash mayhem if she’s fired, so there’s a pretty strong likelihood that they will lay siege to the ANC office if secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli drops the hammer on Mama.
Despite all this, there’s no sign of the Casspirs the eThekwini municipality bought for its metro police.
Mama bought them for R23-million, despite a public outcry, to support the city’s land invasion unit when it demolishes shacks. They were delivered in January.
My man JahNoDead and I came across one of them when we stopped for a quick chicken tikka en route to the ANC office. It was parked in the lot the metro cops use near the Durban Central police station, along with a water cannon and some other heavy vehicles. There was no sign that it was going to be used against Mama’s Army if they took to the streets.
Perhaps there’s an unwritten city policy that the Casspirs can only be deployed against members of Abahlali baseMjondolo for building shacks in suburbia and aren’t to be used to stop members of the governing party from trashing Durban central.
Perhaps they’re broken already. Perhaps the cats who were being sent for driving training failed, or are still on a course. Perhaps Mama has the keys in her handbag, took them home to eTafleni when she was sent on leave by the ANC, just in case she needed to use one of them.
Inside the ANC office, Ntuli is as clear as always when he announces that Mama, the rest of her executive committee (exco) and the whole ANC contingent to the Pietermaritzburg council have been given their Don’t Come Monday letters for running the two cities into the ground.
While Gumede had been put on leave over the corruption case, she’s been bombed along with the rest of her exco because of general poor performance. The ANC will choose their replacements — and those for councillors who have moved upwards or have failed to perform in another nine municipalities — within seven days.
Mama and the rest of the Don’t Come Monday squad aren’t quite out in the cold. They will be “redeployed” as councillors, rather than fired outright — kept on the payroll, but moved away from the till, as it were.
Neither Gumede nor her Pietermaritzburg counterpart, Themba Njilo, are executive mayors, so the exco members bear equal responsibility for the looting of the two cities on their watch. Nobody forged their signatures on the questionable decisions they endorsed. Like Gumede, they need to account for their actions.
Politically the move also makes sense. Those axed are drawn from both ANC factions in the province, so the even-handed approach will assist in counteracting claims by Gumede’s supporters that she is being purged for opposing the sitting provincial executive committee elected last June at the provincial conference.
The ANC also can’t afford to fire them as councillors. Doing so would open up a whole series of by-elections at ward level, which the party has no guarantee it would win. The last thing the ANC needs right now is a new crop of independent candidates loyal to Gumede from within its own ranks, standing against the party’s candidates in the wards they’ve just been fired from. The party will have enough on its hands, given that Gumede’s backers want her to stand as eThekwini ANC chairperson in October, without a whole raft of by-elections.
We head outside. Things are quiet, for now. The small army of cops is still there, but there’s no sign of Gumede’s supporters.
Or her Casspirs.