Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa Picture :Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA Pictures

A strong push was under way last night to ensure that embattled ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal – the party’s biggest province – were not allowed to run party affairs as fears heightened that the organisation’s national elective conference in December was under great risk.

Senior figures in the party told Independent Media that the next big battle would be the meeting of the party’s national working committee (NWC), set for Monday.

Leaders aligned to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa were set to push for the executive committee in KZN, known to support Zuma, to be stripped of powers to prepare for the crucial December conference.

This was after the Pietermaritzburg High Court ruled that the conference at which the ANC KZN leaders were elected was unlawful, giving a major boost to Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign.

There were fears that the elective conference could collapse or have its outcome challenged in court if the current ANC leaders in KZN run nomination processes.

An NWC member said the court decision had plunged the ANC's national executive committee into a spin.

“If there is someone who needs to step in, it is the national office. You cannot allow people elected illegally to run the show,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 

“Whatever decision they (the KZN provincial executive committee, or PEC) take leading to the conference, they will be taken to court. That can also put the national conference at risk. All that we have to do is to protect the conference,” he said.

An NEC member sympathetic to presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma – whose campaign is heavily invested in KZN and supported by the leaders whose legitimacy has been called into question – said the court case had divided the party in KZN and emboldened Ramaphosa’s bid for the highest office.

“Don’t rule out NDZ (Dlamini Zuma), but the scales are against her,” he said.

This came as the DA yesterday also pushed at the high court in Pretoria that Zuma appoint Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to head a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture.

It is believed that although Dlamini Zuma has no known links to the Guptas, who are central in the state capture allegations, those campaigning for her will be under investigation.

Last night, the ANC KZN leadership was scrambling for responses and held an emergency meeting at Durban's Moses Mabhida Stadium to unpack the ramifications of the court decision.

Soon after the judgment was handed down, ANC spokesperson Mdumiseni Ntuli, who is also a member of the PEC, said only the party’s national executive committee could disband the structure.

While saying the party would appeal against the decision, the possibility of a fresh election was not lost on Ntuli, who said: “If the NEC were to say go back to the provincial conference again, we are quite ready and prepared to do that”.

The KZN chairperson of the ANC Youth League, Kwazi Mshengu, who was also at court, echoed similar sentiments. 

“The ANC leadership is still there, it is led by comrade Sihle Zikalala. Even if the conference were to be held tomorrow, we are convinced that we will have the same results as we had in 2015.”

Political analyst Bheki Mngome-
zulu said the implication of the judgment was that the provincial executive committee did not exist. He said the PEC could use the appeal to buy more time.

ANC MPL in the provincial legislature Jomo Sibiya, who supported the application to nullify the 2015 conference, said the final decision rested with the ANC NEC, and he was confident that the national leadership would appoint a task team to run the province.

But Ntuli was confident that the ANC could successfully appeal against the judgment.

“One of the issues that came before the court was the constitutionality of the conference. It was less about whether or not there were irregularities… In our view, that is a matter that cannot be settled at the level of the high court, it requires us to go to the Supreme Court of Appeal,” said Ntuli.

The judgment could have serious repercussions for the government as the applicants said they wanted to see some of the decisions taken by the “illegitimate PEC”  revoked. These would include the appointment of  mayors and the deployments to the provincial government. 

“I think all the decisions that were taken should be reversed, including the removal of (former premier) Senzo (Mchunu),” said Lawrence Dube, one of the applicants.

He later conceded it would be practically impossible to reverse every decision of the PEC.

Ntuli, however, said it was not the decisions of the PEC that were being challenged in court.

Sibiya said the political uncertainty brought about by the judgment was bound to affect the government. 

“The issue of government and deployments is one that should be
dealt with. However, this is not about removing people from positions,” he said.

Mchunu told eNCA yesterday that the court ruling had reaffirmed the branches' power over the ANC. 

“The judgment means the ANC is safer in the hands of the branches,” he said.

Mchunu called for a review of the decision to replace him with ANC provincial deputy chairperson Willies Mchunu.  

ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the party would study the judgment and “interact with structures on the political ramifications”.

– Additional reporting by Nosipho Mngoma