Durban - Although she appeared to have been significantly weakened by the corruption allegations hanging over her head, former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede won the race to once again lead the ANC eThekwini region by defeating Thabani Nyawose, who is pro-Cyril Ramaphosa.
Thembo Ntuli was announced as the deputy regional chairperson.
After facing several organisational and legal hurdles, some political pundits predicted that the eThekwini ANC regional conference, which started on Friday and concluded on Sunday, would be able to achieve its most important goal, that of electing regional leadership.
The installation of a formal structure follows a vacuum of almost two years, created when the provincial executive committee (PEC) led by Sihle Zikalala decided to disband the regional executive committee, which was led by Gumede.
The disbandment was on the basis that their term of office had lapsed, and an interim structure had to take over.
Although the election of regional leaders was eventually completed, the three-day conference highlighted the depth of the divisions within the region, the interest of national leaders in who heads the region and of course the challenges posed by having interim structures in the mother body.
On Friday the first major hurdle was over allowing 13 delegates from the region’s ANC Women’s League and 12 from the ANC Youth League to vote.
Those against the decision claimed that the leagues had no structures since they were disbanded. However, sanity prevailed when they were allowed to vote because interim structures were legitimate leadership structures that have voting rights.
“We wish to confirm that 13 voting delegates representing the ANC Women’s League in the region will participate in the elective conference,” the party announced late on Saturday.
But then the Youth League issue opened the old wound of factionalism when there was a dispute over the names of the voting delegates the league was sending. It was alleged that the delegates were entirely pro-Gumede.
The pro-Nyawose members of the league stalled the acceptance of those delegates until consensus was reached that they (voting delegates) should be split among the two factions.
With the region having a membership bigger than some provinces like Gauteng and Northern Cape combined, the interest in who wins was huge.
On Saturday morning a video was circulated showing Dr Zweli Mkhize allegedly attending a “roll-call” event for the Gumede faction in one of the hotels in Durban.
That prompted Zikalala to lash out at Mkhize without naming him when Zikalala opened the conference on Saturday. He said it was worrying that some leaders of the party were suddenly criss-crossing regions to influence their elections.
The challenge of how ANC processes could be frustrated by factionalism and the use of structures came to a head late on Saturday when delegates were locked in a four-hour argument over allowing members of the regional task team to have voting rights.
Ntando Khuzwayo, the spokesperson of the Gumede faction, said the impasse started during debates over credentials at about 1am on Sunday.
Khuzwayo did admit that besides this going against the grain of the constitution of the ANC, they feared they would be left vulnerable as three members of the regional task team (RTT) from their side were out because of the “step-aside” rule.
“They raised a motion that the RTT be allowed to vote because they know that they are a majority in it since three of our members are out because of step aside. In all the other conferences in KZN, none of the RTT was allowed to vote, so it was going to be the first one where they are allowed to vote. That is how we reached the stalemate,” Khuzwayo said.
The convener of the RTT, Kwazi Mshengu, denied that they were now awaiting guidance from the national executive committee as the provincial executive committee of the ANC was very clear on the voting rights of task team members.
“We are not awaiting guidance. The province has a PEC decision that the ANC task team doesn’t vote. This was a continuation of the practice as we know it. At the provincial conference in 2018, the provincial task team led by (Mike) Mabuyakhulu and (Sihle) Zikalala did not vote. So the position is still the same,” Mshengu said.
In the end, the conference was convened and new leadership has been elected, but the spokesperson of the ANC in the province, Nhlakanipho Ntombela, said one of the lessons they learnt was that interim structures should not have people with an interest in the outcome of a conference.
“Because of Covid-19 regulations, there are things we could not do, hence some of the regions had their term overdue by three years. So we were forced to have interim structures.
“The divisions seen here are telling us that in future when you set up your interim structures, understand more local dynamics.
“Sometimes in regions like eThekwini you build interim structures by combining factions and that did not help you in terms of cohesion.
“Rather look for the best available individuals for that responsibility, but more so, as we move forward, look for people who have no interest in the outcome of the process. That can help you as an organisation,” he said.