/ 20 June 2024

Cyril Xaba tipped for eThekwini mayor, but ANC in the city opposes appointment

Cyril Xaba
Cyril Xaba, 57, has served as an ANC MPL in KwaZulu-Natal from 1994 and became the agriculture MEC in 2014.

The ANC leadership appears set to replace recalled eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda with former National Council of Provinces member Cyril Xaba in a bid to stabilise the embattled municipality.

However, the plan is likely to provoke a backlash from the party’s eThekwini region — the councillors of which he will lead — as they believe they have been sidelined in the process, with Kaunda being recalled without their knowledge.

The region wants either former eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo or former human settlements chairperson Nigel Gumede to be nominated as the ANC’s candidate to replace Kaunda at the full council meeting set for 25 June.

Xaba, 57, has served as an ANC MPL in KwaZulu-Natal from 1994 and became the agriculture MEC in 2014. 

He was removed by the ANC in 2016 after a change in the provincial leadership in favour of the Jacob Zuma faction, but returned to parliament in 2019 as an MP, where he chaired the defence and military veterans portfolio.

Kaunda, who was appointed to replace corruption-accused mayor Zandile Gumede in 2018, was elected by a coalition of the ANC and smaller parties after the November 2021 local government elections.

The ANC has no majority in the city — where it fell below 50% in 2021 — and, as a result, Kaunda has been the subject of several no-confidence motions aimed at removing him over collapsing municipal services.

Last week, the ANC recalled Kaunda, whose responsibilities will be taken on by deputy mayor Zandile Myeni until a new mayor is elected.

ANC eThekwini spokesperson Mlondi Mkhize said that the “entire process has been managed by the provincial leadership to the exclusion of the regional leadership of the party”.

Mkhize said the decision to recall Kaunda had been made by the province “without telling us” but added that it was not creating any difficulty between the region and the province.

“It is like when you have an older brother who takes responsibility for the younger brother and sees no need for discussion. The [provincial executive committee’s] work is to exercise oversight, and they deemed fit and necessary for them to remove the mayor without telling us,” he said.

Mkhize said if the province was “really serious about restoring the confidence of the people and rebuilding the ANC” it would have appointed either Nxumalo or Gumede, who he said both understood how the city worked.

“That is the situation. We will welcome the wisdom of the leadership and we will hope for the guidance,” Mkhize said.

However, an attempt by the province to appoint an administration team in the metro last year was resisted by ANC councillors on the instruction of the region and the intervention fell flat.

The three-person team was unable to make an intervention in the six months it was in place because of the political impasse within the ANC and Xaba could be in for a torrid time if the party is unable to convince eThekwini’s leaders to get onside.

ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Mafika Mndebele said that the province would make recommendations to the national leadership on who to appoint.

“We will submit three names to the national officials. They will be interviewed and the best one will be announced as mayor,” Mndebele said.

The city also has no human settlements cluster chairperson, a powerful position which was occupied by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) until February as part of an arrangement with the ANC.

However, EFF councillor Themba Mvubu was removed from the city’s executive committee in February and the role was taken on by Kaunda until a new candidate was put in place.

It is not clear how the ANC will approach the issue at the next executive committee meeting, which takes place on Monday.

One senior ANC source told the Mail & Guardian that the party might move to install Xaba as a proportional representation councillor ahead of the executive committee meeting as part of the process leading up to the mayoral election on 25 June.

It is also not clear whether the ANC will retain its existing coalition partners in the city when the election takes place — the  National Freedom Party (NFP), the EFF and smaller parties — or whether it will have the support of its new allies in the government of national unity.

The ANC, Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the NFP voted as a bloc in support of new premier Thami Ntuli last Friday and the arrangement is expected to cascade downwards to the municipal level.

Mndebele downplayed the suggestion that this might happen in the city, saying: “The ANC already has partners in the metro.”

However, the coalition between the EFF and the ANC in Gauteng’s metros has collapsed and it is understood that this will also happen in KwaZulu-Natal.

DA caucus leader Thabani Mthethwa said the party expected that the vacancy for mayor and for human settlements chairperson should be filled “as soon as possible”.

“We cannot afford to have such key positions in the city being unoccupied for any length of time,” he said.

Mthethwa said that the DA in the city would wait for “guidance” from the party’s national and provincial leadership as to whether there would be any change in how the organisation voted in eThekwini.

“For now, we know that there is an agreement to work together at national and provincial government level. Whether that is going to come to local government as well, I am not aware,” he said. “As soon as the dust has settled, the leadership will guide us.”