By Stephanie Saville

The Msunduzi Municipality mayor was finally announced on Wednesday night after much deliberation by senior African National Congress officials, with former deputy mayor Zanele Hlatswayo emerging victorious over former mayor Hloni Zondi.

An excited Hlatswayo said her appointment was a victory for all women.

"I'm overwhelmed and excited, but it is mixed with a measure of anxiety. There is not a lot of faith in women and we need to show the world that we are as good as men. But this is not just about me. It is exciting that the gaps in equality are closing."

She said that she was thrilled to be leading the capital city and would take it to new heights. "We will move in new directions now."

Hlatswayo, a teacher, is the granddaughter of the late Chief Albert Luthuli and is seen by many as "ANC royalty".

She was active in human resource issues and HIV and Aids campaigns during her tenure as deputy mayor.

It is expected that women's groups and HIV and Aids organisations will welcome her appointment.

Zondi was appointed Speaker of the Umgungundlovu District Council amid much disappointment among his supporters.

Tensions reached fever pitch on Wednesday as politicians, municipal staff and members of the press awaited the announcement, which was preceded by much speculation.

The Mercury heard from various sources that Zondi and Hlatswayo had been called to Premier S'bu Ndebele's office late on Wednesday to "sort out their differences", giving credence to speculation that the two were at loggerheads and that this was exacerbated by the tension surrounding the appointment of the mayor.

Zondi was gracious in defeat and congratulated Hlatswayo on her appointment. "I wish her all the best, she has the support of the structures and I'm confident that she knows the mandate, which is service delivery, and that she will discharge her duties well."

Zondi declined to comment on the district Speaker's position he was assigned and there was speculation that he would decline.

Reacting to the announcement, the Democratic Alliance's Bill Lambert congratulated Hlatswayo and wished her well for the "daunting task ahead".

"Being the majority party, it's the prerogative of the ANC to elect the mayor. We in the Democratic Alliance would work with whoever was chosen in the interests of the ratepayers and citizens of Pietermaritzburg/Msunduzi.

"However, the delay in the announcement was somewhat disconcerting, showing division within the ANC."

Inkatha Freedom Party regional chairperson David Ntombela also congratulated Hlatswayo.

"I think that people would be pleased as she is suited to that post," he said.

Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business President Babu Baijoo said the chamber's perspective had been to motivate for continuity in the mayor's position.

"But as organised business, we wish to work with council. This is a growing economy and we hope that the relationships we have built with council will continue to strengthen," he said.

The Mercury also heard that the Msunduzi deputy mayor would be Mervyn Dirks and Alpha Shelembe would be appointed Speaker, and that Aubrey Lukhela would be named Deputy Mayor of the Umgungundlovu District Council.

But these positions were not confirmed by the ANC on Wednesday night.

The next development the city will be watching is the composition of Hlatswayo's executive committee.

There is speculation that the complete make-up will change. The ANC will have seven seats, the DA two and the IFP one.