/ 5 April 2024

Damage control: Mashatile to visit Zulu king in wake of Duma’s microphone gaffe

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Olive branch: Paul Mashatile, the deputy president of the ANC, is to consult with the Zulu king in an attempt to reduce tension over a perceived snub. Photo: OJ Koloti/Gallo Images

ANC deputy president Paul Mashatile is expected to meet King MisuZulu kaZwelithini after weeks of tension since the party’s provincial chair Siboniso Duma stopped Zulu traditional prime minister Thulasizwe Buthelezi from speaking at a government event. 

The ANC in the province doubled down on the move when it released a statement in support of Duma, whose actions were perceived as an insult to the Zulu monarch by supporters, including the Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP) leadership. 

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa was present when the incident took place. 

Two high-ranking leaders, including a member of the ANC top brass, said Mashatile would probably visit the king next Friday. 

The insiders said this would form  part of the ANC’s efforts to repair its relationship with the Zulu monarch and the damage to its reputation with the Zulu people. 

“It’s a decision that we expected because, in discussions with the president, it was decided that national [ANC leadership] should intervene in KwaZulu-Natal because this matter is out of the provincial leadership’s hands,” the national executive committee (NEC) member said.

A top-seven member confirmed  that national officials had deployed one of their own in the province. 

“Our major concern is that, if we don’t visibly act and recognise that we know what happened was wrong to the KwaZulu-Natal population, it has the potential to lose us votes [in the 29 May election]. 

“We have to do every­thing and anything possible and within our means to salvage what we have in KZN,” the NEC member said. 

They added that the meeting with the IFP would not include post-election talks about a coalition.  The NEC member added that Mashatile would also hold a meeting with the IFP leadership, including its president Velenkosi Hlabisa. 

“The IFP did what we should have done in that situation. The IFP has emerged more mature and rational in this situation and has called for a meeting to discuss this with the ANC. 

“Under normal circumstances, it’s the ANC which should have gone out in that way but we made unfortunate statements around Amabutho and their relations with the IFP, which is wrong because Amabutho are not inherently IFP. 

“We expect that when [Mashatile] meets with the king, he will also touch base with the IFP in response to their request,” said the source.  

ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri did not respond to questions.  

Hlabisa, however, told the M&G that the IFP had been snubbed by Ramaphosa, who failed to respond to his requests for a meeting to “arrest what happened”. 

“If they have deployed the deputy president, the respectful thing they could have done — seeing that I wrote to the president of the ANC — was to acknowledge the letter and respond to indicate what direction are they taking in relation to my request in the letter,” Hlabisa said, adding that the ANC’s meeting with the Zulu king would be independent of the IFP’s requests. 

The ANC has the potential to lose its majority in the two most populous provinces — KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

The two account for the lion’s share of the ANC’s voters. In 2021, the ANC received 5.25 million votes, over two million of them coming from the two provinces. This translates to 37.7% of the ANC’s national vote. 

In 2019, the ANC received a little over 10 million votes, of which 4.44 million came from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the equivalent of 44.3% of the voter share.

The ANC’s drop in popularity in those two provinces between 2019 and 2021 alone was significant and caused it to get a mere 45% of the national vote in 2021. 

To reduce these potential losses and the growth of the Jacob Zuma-endorsed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, the party’s national leaders have deployed some of its most popular veterans from the province to do its election work, including Zweli Mkhize, Mike Mabuyakhulu and S’bu Ndebele. 

The two high-ranking ANC leaders told the M&G the Mkhize group was being under-utilised. 

In a previous interview with the M&G, head of elections Mdumiseni Ntuli conceded that the MK party was a threat to the ANC’s electoral outcomes. 

The insiders said the ANC was exploring a government of national unity as an option, should it lose.

This model was used during the Nelson Mandela presidency in the early years of democracy. The insiders said the model — which resulted in the National Party controlling the economic cluster in 1994 — was the most practical way to run the country, should the ANC fail to obtain a majority. 

In a recent interview with the M&G, DA leader John Steenhuisen hinted that a government of national unity would have to be explored. 

Hlabisa was also amenable to this idea, he told the M&G. 

He said while the IFP wanted to ensure that the ANC was out of power, should this fail, they would need to look at all options. 

The IFP’s relationship with the party’s national leaders in the province had soured. 

“Should the Multi-Party Charter be unable to get 50% plus one, it will be a different matter. Political parties will have to engage in a conscious decision, and a sober one, because you cannot afford to leave the country at a standstill,” he said. 

“The country must go forward but you will need to reflect with whom you can  form a government of national unity in order to take the country forward. 

“The question of the government of national unity, in the IFP, is not something we can rule out but we want to activate voters to the Multi-Party Charter,” Hlabisa said. 

The governing party has been the biggest victim of the IFP’s growth in support in the province in recent years. While many critics of its late founder Mangosuthu Buthelezi have, over the years, predicted that the IFP would not outlive him, the party has in recent years turned around the electoral decline it suffered from 1994 to 2014. 

It has increased its share of the vote in every national, provincial and local government poll since 2016 and has also dealt with the succession crisis that forced it to postpone elective conferences for a decade.

The party took 41 of 80 legislature seats in 1994 but this dropped to a low of nine in 2014, with its current share at 13. But its growth in 2021 gave the party hope that it can take back control of the province through a coalition with the DA.