The ANC’s influential eThekwini region was forced to adjourn its elective conference in Durban overnight on Saturday after delegates from two rival factions deadlocked over who is eligible to vote.
This happened after two full days of ongoing battles over participation in the crucial conference by the ANC’s women’s and youth leagues; a number of disqualified branches and finally a stalemate over whether or not the regional task team running the region should be allowed to vote.
While the ANC leadership is hopeful of reaching an agreement on credentials when the conference resumes on Sunday morning, some delegates fear a repeat of the collapse of the conference on several occasions by supporters of former mayor Zandile Gumede in 2015.
In that contest, Gumede, eventually won the race for chair, but only after several conferences were halted and the result of one — which her opponent James Nxumalo won — was set aside by then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
On Friday a number of branches backing Gumede — which had earlier been disqualified — lodged disputes during the registration of branches, while the ANC Youth League regional task team threatened court action over its delegation.
The ANC Women’s League — which backs Gumede — also delayed the start of the conference on Saturday with a dispute over its representation, which was eventually settled at 15 delegates.
Gumede, who was recalled by the ANC in 2019 after being elected chairperson in 2015, is standing for the post again, backed by the radical economic transformation faction of the ruling party, against eThekwini speaker Thabani Nyawose, a key player in the camp supporting ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa in the region and the province.
The conference then went ahead, about four hours late, with provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala addressing delegates and calling on them to stop being “members of members” – failing which they would face the ANC losing national elections in 2024.
However, attempts to adopt a credentials report after the lunch break failed, with Gumede’s supporters pushing that the regional task team be barred from voting in a heated session which deadlocked at around 1am.
The conference was then adjourned to 9am on Sunday.
Around 90 of the region’s 111 branches were understood to have qualified to participate, with several of the largest — which backed Gumede — being disqualified.
The large branches are allowed multiple delegates and play a key role in the voting, and the disqualifications appear to have given Nyawose the upper hand.
A delegate from one of the branches, who asked not to be named, told the Mail & Guardian that they feared the conference might be collapsed to halt the elections and give the Gumede faction time to regroup.
Gumede — who was not physically present at the conference because of the party’s step-aside rule — is out on R50 000 bail after being arrested, along with a network of councillors, city officials and contractors, over an allegedly corrupt solid waste tender which cost the city about R400-million for services it never received.
The conference is required to elect a new leadership and discuss policy over the three days, but is now left with only a single day to complete its programme, bar the chairperson’s address and opening prayers.
“Nyawose is ahead. The figure is over 200 [delegates] already. We are going to have a maximum of about 380 [voting delegates] so that’s already a majority,” the delegate said.
“I can see this conference being collapsed. They don’t have the numbers, so what is the next move? Stop the conference. If they don’t, they’ve lost eThekwini and the province.”
Zikalala used his opening address to berate delegates over factionalism and to lash national leaders of the party for attempting to influence the outcome of the leadership election for their own ends.
Zikalala’s comments were aimed at disgraced former health minister Zweli Mkhize and women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini — both of whom addressed delegates privately ahead of the conference and the ruling party’s suspended secretary general, Ace Magashule, who also spoke to delegates in an unofficial caucus.
Zikalala’s intervention also appeared to be aimed at national executive committee member Lindiwe Sisulu, who was at the conference and who — like Mkhize — has been attempting to set up another bid for the ANC presidency using KwaZulu-Natal as a launchpad.
“Let regions elect leaders without our interference as national and provincial leaders,” Zikalala said. “We must deal with tendencies where comrades in high positions go around and hold meetings with structures outside of the organisational framework.”
He said national leaders who “popped up” every time there was a conference and attempted to influence ANC members to support their ambitions were not assisting the party.
Turning to factionalism, Zikalala said the ANC was in trouble because “we have allowed ourselves to become members of members … we are more loyal to factions than to the ANC as an organisation.”
“We must confront these tendencies … even if it is done by leaders,” he said.
Zikalala also roasted former leaders of the party who had “failed to implement transformation” when they were in office and now had hijacked radical economic transformation (RET) for factional purposes, to the detriment of the ANC.
The conference is a major test for the Ramaphosa camp in its bid for a second term, and for the RET faction, which needs KwaZulu-Natal’s support if it hopes to make a comeback at the ANC national elective conference in December.
It is also a test of support for Zikalala himself – who also hopes to be re-elected later this year – but whose address will have alienated the RET faction even further.