At a press conference on Thursday 22 August, the deeply divided ANC KwaZulu-Natal leadership commended Zandile Gumede for the dignified manner in which she had accepted its decision to recall her as mayor of eThekwini.
The press conference was delayed by about four hours as factions in the party’s provincial executive committee went into overtime debating who would replace Gumede, her deputy and the council’s speaker, and who would fill those same positions in the Msunduzi Local Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal. The province’s two largest cities, Durban and Pietermaritzburg, are in the powerful eThekwini and Msunduzi municipalities respectively.
This latest drama followed the ANC’s unprecedented decision to recall the executive committees of eThekwini and Msunduzi municipalities because of what ANC provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala described as “administrative collapse”.
The length of time the “horse-trading” took reflected the high stakes: whoever runs the municipalities also has oversight over the municipal coffers, from which patronage is dispensed in return for support from within and outside the ANC – whether the taps are closed or open, who gets to drink, how much and to what end.
The situation in the province is such that the ANC has placed four of its eleven regions under temporary guardianship because of infighting and factionalism. Others like Emalahleni have previously experienced provincial administration until elective conferences were held over the past two years. In that light, Gumede’s actions and those in Msunduzi can be seen as a fightback by the pro-Zuma faction in anticipation of the upcoming regional conferences, because whoever wins these locks down support. The rearguard action also reflects the recognition that the factions need to stay close to ensure victory, because winning allows continuing largesse to be dispensed from the trough.
The ANC regions in which the two municipalities are situated – eThekwini and Moses Mabhida, two of the largest in the ANC countrywide – are scheduled to hold elective conferences this year and whoever wins will have weighty influence on the next provincial and national conferences of the ANC.
The ANC’s provincial leadership has attempted to unify the party after divisions created in the build-up to the party’s national conference at Nasrec in 2017. But factionalism around support for current president Cyril Ramaphosa and his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, remains. Gumede and the former leadership of the Moses Mabhida region in Pietermaritzburg are considered belligerents aligned to Zuma and the continued attempts by his supporters to destabilise the party under Ramaphosa.
The recent moves against Gumede and Themba Mjilo – the Pietermaritzburg mayor first suspended and then replaced, on Friday 30 August, by Mzimkhulu Thobela – and the suspensions of some of their supporters appear to be the first moves by the Ramaphosa faction, dubbed CR17, to deal with internal ANC politics through subnational structural mechanisms.
Conference delays and confusion
According to several ANC members in eThekwini, the region’s branches have yet to convene to decide matters related to the elective conference and are unlikely to do so by this weekend’s deadline. This delays a regional conference, one of four in the province being run by task teams, rather than elected leadership.
How the processes leading up to and including these conferences are managed will, to a degree, influence who is elected. Latterly, ANC conferences in the province have consistently been undermined by allegations of gate-keeping and branch and voter manipulation. Some, such as the 2015 provincial conference, were declared unlawful by the courts.
The results from the two regional conferences would have repercussions for the ANC – and its stability under Ramaphosa – for the next few years. The spokesperson for Gumede’s supporters in eThekwini, Mzomuhle Dube, remained adamant that they would campaign for her re-election as eThekwini regional chairperson when the conference was held. And that was before Gumede’s about-turn, in which she withdrew her resignation as mayor.
Dube said the process that led to Gumede’s removal was “flawed” and that he was confident she “enjoyed the support of about 85% of the branches in the region”, who would vote for her at the next regional conference.
Conflation of state and party
Since the ANC’s 2007 national elective conference in Polokwane, ascending to regional leadership positions and parlaying the votes that this allows into positions in government – a conflation of state and party – has become normalised in the ANC.
But on Thursday 29 August, ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli admitted that the ANC had to deal with the conflation of party and state at regional level, which was leading to volatility, instability and alleged political assassinations.
He said a “major part” of the ANC’s challenge to renew itself in a more united and ethical manner is “with our elected leadership that is distorting the value system of our movement. It’s the elected leadership that, in many instances, is acting in variance with what is expected …
“Our comrades and their ascendancy to state power has created some self-entitlement: ‘I’m the chairperson of the region and so I deserve to be the mayor.’ When someone says you may very well be the chairperson but you are not qualified to be the mayor, that person is identified as an enemy,” added Ntuli.
The day after Gumede withdrew her resignation, saying that she had sought “sound” legal advice, the running of the municipality was thrown into chaos that Ntuli described as “unprecedented” and part of a new “boldness against the collective position of the ANC”.
Tarnishing the ANC
Ntuli said Gumede’s decision was “completely undermining the centrality” of the ANC while “tarnishing” the organisation. He said while the provincial leadership will wait for the outcome of Gumede’s appeal to Luthuli House, the party would deal “decisively” with people “challenging the authority of the ANC”.
“We obviously have to exercise our minds as to what is behind this. What lies at the base of this commitment to tackle the ANC head-on? [Gumede’s is] a head-on approach towards the ANC, which is not something that is done by comrades who are committed and genuine members of the ANC,” he said.
He added that this “boldness” included Gumede supporters disrupting a meeting of branches convened in eThekwini two weeks earlier to discuss the recall, where “comrades who are leaders of branches and councillors stood up and they banged tables and they threw chairs at the provincial leadership of the ANC”.
He said this led to the ANC summarily suspending 10 of its members, in many instances branch leaders and councillors. These members were deemed to have instigated the latest disruptions, which followed waves of protests in the streets as the pressure around Gumede mounted following her being charged with corruption linked to a R208 million waste removal tender.
Whether through negotiated democratic centralism or purging, Ramaphosa appears to have approached securing unity in the party, hegemony even, with nothing like the enthusiasm and vice-like grip of his predecessor.
This has allowed free rein in ANC structures, from branches all the way up to Ace Magashule’s secretary general office at Luthuli House, something which rarely happened or was quickly suppressed during Zuma’s years as ANC leader.
Gumede thumbing her nose at the ANC leadership is an immediate test of its resolve to unite the party and its intentions to “renew” along ethical lines. If she succeeds in returning to regional power within the ANC, the test will extend to the ruling party’s national general council next year and beyond.