Durban - Forty eThekwini councillors had their bags packed for a weekend cruise.
They had the blessing of eThekwini municipality mayor James Nxumalo. But things got stormy when the ANC’s provincial leadership, led by Sihle Zikalala, instructed the council to abort the trip and focus on mobilising people for the voter registration campaign which took place on Saturday and continues today
The councillors were to have departed on Friday. The trip would have cost taxpayers R160 000. But some argue it would have cost more.
Sources say the instruction to abort the conference cruise to Mozambique’s Portuguese Island, which is claimed to have come from the provincial chairman, angered eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo.
They say deputy mayor and chairwoman of the economic development committee, Nomvuzo Shabalala was even angrier.
An ANC eThekwini ward councillor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Sunday Tribune that the interference of the ANC in council matters was a recipe for disaster. The councillor said the instruction from the ANC’s provincial structure to abort the trip was an indication that Nxumalo had been stripped of his power in making decisions.
“He was extremely angry but he couldn’t do anything about it. He had to comply,” said the councillor, adding that Nxumalo had been “spitting fire” and decided not to be active in this weekend’s voter registration. Nxumalo’s name did not appear in the party’s campaigning programme.
Another ANC councillor said the party was divided in the council and the provincial structure was to blame.
“They interfere with the running of the municipality. I don’t know who’s the mayor anymore, whether it’s (James) Nxumalo or Zandile Gumede,” the councillor said.
Gumede was elected as chairwoman during the party’s eThekwini regional conference in December in what has been described as a one-horse race as Nxumalo did not participate in the conference. Her victory followed that of Zikalala, her ally, who defeated Premier Senzo Mchunu as provincial chairman in November.
Both Mchunu and Nxumalo remained mayor and premier respectively. But concerns have been raised whether they have the power to make decisions.
Nxumalo disputed the claims that he was angry, saying people were “blowing this out of proportion”.
He said: “There’s nothing to be angry about, because the matter had not come to the executive committee for consideration. I can assure you that we couldn’t have allowed for 40 councillors to go on a sea cruise, at least one or two of them.”
He dismissed claims that the Zikalala-Gumede faction was operating behind the scenes.
Shabalala said they had to comply with the orders of the ANC, saying it was a fair move for the party to bar councillors from participating in the cruise, which went on without them.
“As we speak, the cruise is taking place, but without us councillors,” she said.
Political analysts believe the decision to cancel the trip was in the best interests of the party.
Thabani Khumalo, of Think Tank Marketing Services, said this was a good call by the provincial leadership of the ANC, claiming that it defied logic that councillors would go on a trip while their constituencies registered to vote. “It’s a contradition”.
Dr Bheki Mngomezulu echoed his sentiments. “Even though some people say this decision was politically motivated, I disagree. This decision was in the best interests of the party. Opposition parties would have scored political points if the ANC allowed the trip to happen.”