eThekwini ANC faction chooses power over the people

Zandile Gumede’s election to yet another powerful position in the KwaZulu-Natal region is, by most accounts, in the interest of her self-serving supporters and not the long-suffering residents.

The victory in absentia of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, who was elected as the region’s ANC chairperson at its elective conference held from 8 to 10 April in Durban, sparked jubilation among her supporters. But while they pumped their fists triumphantly, her detractors recoiled in horror at what the return of “uMama” portends.

At the outcome, radical economic transformation (RET) champions Carl Niehaus and Nkosentsha Shezi sneered in social media posts that clearly showed the return of the disgraced Gumede was part of a bigger ANC power play. Gumede, a staunch ally of former president Jacob Zuma, faces a raft of corruption charges relating to an irregular municipal solid waste tender worth R320 million that was awarded in 2017. The charges include theft, money laundering, fraud, corruption and racketeering.

While ANC members are preaching unity after Gumede’s election to a powerful position, her victory in one of the country’s most influential ANC regions could intensify the intra-party violence that has already claimed scores of lives. 

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The weekend conference was repeatedly delayed because of disputes over members’ accreditation and whether the party’s youth and women’s leagues – whose leadership’s terms of office had expired – could be accepted as voting delegates. They were accepted, collectively representing 25 votes that are said to have swung the balance in favour of Gumede. She secured 210 votes to trump eThekwini council speaker Thabani Nwayose, who got 181 votes.

Gumede’s slate, which made a clean sweep, included Thembo Ntuli as her deputy, Musa Nciki as secretary general, Nkosenhle Madlala as deputy secretary general and Zoe Shabalala as treasurer.

The court case against Gumede and her 21 co-accused has been set down for trial in the high court in Pietermaritzburg from 18 July until 31 August. She has agreed to “step aside” if convicted, as per the deeply contested ANC rule that was determined in 2017. But whereas some ANC members believe those facing charges of wrongdoing are morally obliged to refrain from holding office until cleared or convicted by a court, others strongly disagree. 

A laughable notion

Political analyst Xolani Dube scoffed at the idea of Gumede not being in charge of the region. “Of course she is pulling the strings,” he said. This was echoed by S’bu Zikode, president of the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, whose members have been targets of the ANC-led city administration. He described Gumede’s win as “very disappointing” and said she believed the ANC was bigger than South Africa. 

“She puts the party before the country. This is all about them [ANC comrades], not us. What does this say about the people who voted her in, given the serious charges she faces? When she was mayor the city was characterised by high levels of gangsterism, violence and corruption, not to mention service delivery failures.”

Dubbed the “Iron Lady of Inanda”, Gumede’s reign as mayor saw the rise of mafia-like “business forums” under the banner of RET. They invaded and disrupted construction sites and extorted money, and armed and violent intimidation frequently trumped the law.

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In 2018, the then auditor general, Kimi Makwetu, withdrew an audit team from the city after its members received death threats. Around the same time, allegations emerged that 55 of Gumede’s supporters who claimed to be Umkhonto weSizwe veterans had been employed on preferential terms by the municipality, earning vastly better salaries than those of other workers. 

Gumede has played a key role in the ANC in eThekwini since 2007, when she was elected party treasurer. She held this influential position until 2015 and then was mayor from 2016 to 2019, when she was ousted by the party. The police have claimed witnesses in her case have been subject to intimidation. 

Known to have links to the taxi industry, Gumede seems to have come into her own in the era of John Mchunu, a strongman whose reign was marked by flourishing corruption and assassinations in eThekwini. Jacob Zuma was leveraged into the presidency by a campaign primarily organised by ANC structures in Durban under Mchunu’s leadership.

All about patronage

To many ANC members Gumede represents the de facto muscle the party uses on the ground to get things done in its preferred way: by force. In 2013, an ANC investigation into disputes about the party’s list processes for the 2011 local government elections recommended that Gumede be removed as a councillor because of the claims of intimidation and conflict surrounding her.

But Gumede, like Zuma, is regarded by many ANC comrades as a victim who has been cast as a pariah because she is part of a collective that operated a well-oiled patronage network. They believe Gumede was hung out to dry because the ANC needed a scapegoat for its connivance in keeping that patronage machine working. 

Dube said Gumede’s victory was no surprise. The ANC, under various leaders, facilitated corruption and her election was evidence of its arrogance and disdain for public opinion. Discord among competing factions in the party, he said, was a sideshow to corruption.

“These guys have their hands in the cookie jar … We as the electorate are docile. This party is about control of the resources of the country. There is no ‘step aside’ in the ANC. Regardless of the different interpretations, they are all rogues. Former presidents of the ANC have referred to the ANC as a party of gangsters and hyenas. Do we expect any honesty from these people? The ANC has twisted morals. It is all about them.”

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Dube said Gumede was representative of most ANC comrades who were bound by an “umbilical cord to the ANC monster”. “Do you think she is going to cut the cord herself [by stepping aside]? We need not fool ourselves. There are no moral people in the ANC who will cut this cord. If they cut the cord, how will they survive? Do they have careers outside of the ANC? The answer is no.”

Social movements and grassroots organisations who represent the city’s impoverished have joined the chorus of criticism. Durban-based environmental and community activist Desmond D’Sa said Gumede’s election was indicative of the ANC’s priorities. “Poor people suffer a lack of service delivery and live in inhumane conditions. We cannot expect leaders involved in corruption to bring us out of poverty.”

Verushka Memdatt, general secretary of the Market Users Committee, which represents thousands of street traders, said Gumede’s election made her wonder whether the ANC takes public opinion seriously. “It’s disgusting that a woman accused of so many wrongdoings should accept this position. There are women who break their backs to serve the people. When I see this I don’t feel like there is much fairness in the system,” she said.

Radically divided

Gumede’s win in eThekwini comes in the wake of other ANC regional conferences in KwaZulu-Natal at which slates aligned to the RET faction and Zuma were elected. This could signal an obstacle to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s bid for a second term as ANC president at the national elective conference in December. 

RET champion Shezi, in a video on Twitter, was seen lauding Gumede’s conquest. “The forces on the ground are sick and tired of this corrupt regime. They want RET, land expropriation without compensation, they want the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank.” He added that Gumede’s win was “a reaffirmation that RET is the only solution … CR [Cyril Ramaphosa] and his stooges, we are coming for you.”

His comments are evidence of how deeply divided the ANC is, a fact bemoaned by KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala in a candid interview with Eyewitness News this week. During the interview, Zikalala took a swipe at disgraced ANC leaders Zweli Mkhize, Bathabile Dlamini and Ace Magashula, who had criss-crossed the province ahead of the elective conference in eThekwini. 

Referring to what one political commentator described as a “frenzy of caucuses”, given the influence of the eThekwini election on the provincial and national leadership contests, Zikalala said the “unacceptable” meetings fostered factionalism.

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A few days after the conference, regional newspaper Daily News reported that Gumede had completely excluded anyone from Nyawose’s slate in the composition of the 20-member ANC eThekwini executive committee, indicating her faction wanted to run the city alone.

Nciki, meanwhile, said the step-aside rule had to have regard for Gumede’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. As for the composition of the new regional executive committee, he said: “We haven’t excluded or cut anyone out. People were elected. It means the ANC doesn’t have confidence in them [the Nyawose faction].”

He strongly rejected depictions of Gumede and her supporters as gangsters or as members of the RET faction. “We are not RET. We are willing to implement the Nasrec resolutions [of the 54th ANC national conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg in 2017] … We will revive the ANC and ensure the alleviation of poverty and the improvement of service delivery. It is not a question of what is Zandile Gumede’s plan. We don’t work by individual plans. We are a collective.”

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Political scientist and New Frame contributor Imraan Buccus said Gumede’s election was about patronage and indicative of a predatory elite showing the middle finger to a constitutional democracy. What it said was that while others controlled the judicial system, these elites “own the streets”.

“Why would you even stand with these charges hanging over your head? Gumede enjoys support. Her people have secured the patronage network. Now it is about how the spoils are dispensed. Local government has become the focus of looting even if it means killing other people.

“These people have flourished in an era of thuggery, violence and villainy. I don’t think it is sustainable, this vulgar and all-out attempt to loot, but they will while they can,” said Buccus.

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