A little known ANC branch secretary from the Bluff in Durban will take on the city’s ousted mayor, Zandile Gumede, in the contest for chair of the eThekwini region at arguably the most important of 17 regional elective conferences to be held in the coming months.
Thabani Nyawose, a senior manager in the eThekwini municipality’s human settlements department, confirmed this week that he had been approached by branches in the region to stand as chairperson.
Nyawose, 44, successfully stood as deputy chairperson to James Nxumalo at an eThekwini regional conference in 2015, but the outcome of the conference was set aside by the party’s national executive committee (NEC).
Nxumalo’s faction boycotted the re-run that took place in the face of disruptions and allegations of
conference rigging, and a hostile ANC secretariat headed by then secretary general Gwede Mantashe, with Gumede being elected unopposed.
The first branch general meetings in the region — being run by a regional task team —±and at which nominations for a new regional leadership will take place, are expected to sit next week.
“We expect the first of the BGMs [branch general meetings] to start meeting to nominate next week,” Nyawose said. “They had been meant to start earlier but there were delays over the membership system. I have agreed that should the branches nominate [me], I will accept.”
On Tuesday, ANC regional and provincial secretaries met party secretary general Ace Magashule to endorse the guidelines for the conferences, four of which will be delayed until April because preparation is slow and membership lists for the regions need to be ratified.
Mpumalanga, North West and Western Cape are also set to hold elective conferences ahead of the party’s national general council meeting at the end of July.
The conferences will be the first real test of strength of support for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “unity” leadership in the provinces and regions since the national elective conference at Nasrec in December 2017.
Supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who have grouped around Magashule, hope to take back ground lost in the provinces since their defeat at Nasrec.
Success will not only give them the upper hand going into the national general council, but will also allow them to dominate in the process of selecting ANC mayoral and councillor candidates going into the 2021 local government elections.
And it will enable them to consolidate their position ahead of the 2022 ANC national conference, at which Ramaphosa will seek re-election.
In the eThekwini contestation, Nyawose will head a “unity” slate with eThekwini secretary Bheki Ntuli, a former ally of Gumede’s, as secretary. Another former Gumede ally, Thanduxolo Sabelo, is part of Nyawose’s slate, as is another former regional executive committee colleague, Ntokozo Sibiya.
Nyawose was central to the successful court challenge to the outcome of the November 2015 KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference, which broke the hold of the Dlamini-Zuma faction on the province.
“I believe that the court ruling saved the ANC,” said Nyawose. “The party would have been in a much worse position than it is today had we not won.”
Despite his low public profile, Nyawose is well known in the ANC, which he joined after becoming a United Democratic Front activist at school in Izingolweni.
Nyawose’s political activism cost him dearly at an early age. He was shot and left for dead by Inkatha Freedom Party assassins who ambushed him on the bus home in 1993 and he still has a bullet lodged in his body.
He survived a second attack in 1999 at the SJ Smith Hostel, and life-threatening health problems, which saw him declared disabled by doctors.
“I am a product of very difficult times. I believe this gives me the strength I am going to need,” he said.
Nyawose believes that despite Gumede’s high profile and links with business forums, his campaign has a chance of success. “We have a chance. We need to get the support of a minimum of 52 and a maximum of 56 branches to win. I believe we can achieve this,” he said.
In North West, the Ngaka Modiri Molema regional leadership, which was suspended last month, has gone to court to challenge the suspension, carried out by the ANC North West provincial interim committee.
The impending court battle may also place the provincial conference scheduled for April 26 and 27 under threat.
This is because the region wants the court to review the decision by Luthuli House to merge the provincial executive committee led by chairperson Supra Mahumapelo with a provincial task team to form the provincial interim committee.
The committee is responsible for preparations for the provincial conference and four regional conferences. A successful challenge to its legitimacy — and its decisions — will derail the pre-conference process.
Mahumapelo twice won high court battles with the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters, which had dissolved his provincial executive committee in 2018, with the court eventually ruling that the committee should remain in office until the provincial conference is held. But the provincial interim committee was appointed and has since suspended the regions.
In court papers on the behalf of the Modiri Molema regional executive committee, Seitheki Sophy Mtombo asked the high court in Johannesburg to declare the suspension of the regional executive committee on February 24 unlawful and to set aside the appointment of a regional task team to replace it. She also asked the court to interdict the provincial interim committee from recognising the regional task team and from working with it until an appeal by the regional executive committee had been heard by Luthuli House.
North West’sthree other ANC regions — Ruth Mompati, Kenneth Kaunda and Bojanala —have been dissolved and are being run by regional task teams.
Mtombo said the decision to suspend her region was taken “arbitrarily and capriciously” on the basis of a “factional narrative” that the regional executive committee could not function.
She said the provincial interim committee failed to consult branches before dissolving the region, while Luthuli House had “brazenly ignored” the order to reinstate Mahumapelo’s provincial executive committee until a new one was elected at the conference.
She said allowing the provincial interim committee to disband the regional executive committee was also a violation of the court order issued in February last year in response to Mahumapelo’s application.
The current regional executive committee, whose term ended in August, had a constitutional obligation to finish its term and prepare for the provincial conference.
“The NEC, as the custodian of the ANC constitution, failed in its duty to intervene and prevent [the provincial interim committee] from pursuing its unlawful scheme to advance its factional project,” Mtombo said.
The matter is set to be heard on March 10.
Kenneth Kaunda and Ruth Mompati regions have already indicated that they will go to court to challenge their dissolution once internal ANC processes have been exhausted.
The former co-ordinator of the Bojanala regional task team, Tokyo Mataboge, has also given the provincial interim committee notice of his intention to take high court action over his removal.
In its report to Luthuli House, the provincial interim committee said it would oppose his action.
In the report, provincial interim committee co-ordinator Hlomane Chauke said that allegations of ongoing membership corruption by staff at the ANC provincial office were continuing.
It recommended that the allegations be investigated and that staff be placed on precautionary suspension immediately pending the outcome of the probe.
Chauke had not responded to calls and messages from the Mail & Guardian at the time of publication.