The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is scrambling to find it’s next leader – a person on whom the party’s biggest province will pin its hopes as it looks to avoid being left out in the political wilderness.
Three names have been put forward for the top job ahead of the party’s conference in the province in April, though some have raised concerns that holding the meeting so soon may result in fresh court battles.
Former provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala, former eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo and former MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu have been touted for the job in what will be yet another hot contest.
Insiders say a bruising battle cannot be avoided as the province needs to get serious about regaining its “kingmaker” status in the
“Things are still tense here. Sihle is no longer as powerful as he believed he was. He must also contend with the fact that he failed to deliver a top-six position for KwaZulu-Natal [during the national elective conference in December]. He is the first leader since the unbanning [of the party] to break that legacy,” one insider said.
At least five former leaders in the province contested for a position in the top six at the conference in Nasrec, but all their bids failed.
Zikalala said the conference would take place within the agreed timeframe.
“Our timeframe accommodates the work of the subcommittee looking into issues with membership and branches, so I am confident that the conference will happen on the set date in April without any postponement. I can tell you that there is already a date for April that has been finalised, but I won’t announce it to the media – structures will be informed first”.
Mabuyakhulu, who is also the provincial interim committee convener, told City Press that it was still too soon to make a call on whether the conference should be moved to a later date.
“We have set up a subcommittee that is dealing with all issues around membership. They haven’t as yet submitted their report and they have also not yet indicated to us where they have found major difficulties. If the report comes and we find there are major issues, it is only then that we will talk about what should be done in terms of our road map,” Mabuyakhulu said.
The convener, who served as economic development and tourism MEC when Senzo Mchunu was premier, was arrested for corruption earlier this month. Some of his backers have now opted to throw their weight behind Nxumalo.
“If Mike doesn’t survive this thing, or if it is not resolved in time, James will have to step up. He is a good fit for the job, but he will have to toughen up – this place is not the environment for a pastor,” an alliance insider said.
Nxumalo was ousted from his position in favour of Zikalala ally Zandile Gumede.
With the Mchunu and Zikalala factions still very much in existence, processes leading up to the conference will have to be flawless or the meeting could be interdicted or contested afterwards.
An outlandish proposal for former president Jacob Zuma to make a comeback as chairperson – and later premier – in the province was quickly doused with cold water.
“The guys sympathetic to Zuma wanted to make that proposal, but when it was leaked, it got so much backlash that it was abandoned. How can a statesman come back to serve at provincial level? Those childish things won’t fly,” the alliance insider said.
“The Zikalala faction is also imploding, so they can no longer get away with things they used to. Let us get the processes right and consult each other.”
Mabuyakhulu said that, although the alliance’s political forum had not yet gathered, it was an important part of the process of mending fences in the province.
“There is a 10-a-side delegation that is engaging on the issues that are the basis of consternation within the members of the movement,” Mabuyakhulu said.
Despite the anxiety in the province around rebuilding the KwaZulu-Natal “brand”, Mabuyakhulu downplayed fears that the province was at risk of losing the status it once enjoyed in the ANC.
“We have never been relegated to the political wilderness and we won’t be now. We had views towards the conference, but that conference has now come and gone.”
Zikalala said it was necessary to have a leadership emerge from the conference that is made up of all sides: “We simply cannot have a winner-takes-all approach at the conference.”