Dr Zweli Mkhize, treasurer general of the ANC during an interview with The Star conducted at ANC Headquarters Luthuli House in the CBD. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu/ANA
On December 20, the ANC will conclude its national elective conference by electing its 14th president in its 105 years of existence. There are eight potential candidates to replace President Jacob Zuma and while some of them will take the race down to the wire, others are rank outsiders. Independent Media’s political team will profile each of the candidates, in no particular order, in the run-up.

This week we start with former KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize.

Background

A doctor turned politician, he remains active in KwaZulu-Natal, his home province, as he campaigns for the highest position in the party and country. Mkhize was born in Willowfontein, Pietermaritzburg in 1956 and completed his medical degree at the University of Natal when he was 26 years old.

The successful doctor turned to a life of activism and, in turn, he was forced into exile in Swaziland before he settled in Zimbabwe.

He returned to South Africa in 1991 after the unbanning of the ANC. He worked as a doctor but the political calling proved too strong.

In 2004, he was appointed MEC for Finance and Economic Development in KwaZulu-Natal while chairperson of the ANC’s National Education and Health subcommittee.

In 2009, he became the fifth premier of KZN. He served as the chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal since 2009 until 2017. Mkhize was elected as the ANC’s treasurer general at the 53rd National conference in 2012. Last month, he announced that he would accept a nomination to be the next president of the party’s December conference.

Family life

Mkhize has his ancestral farm in Willowfontein and is passionate about his family and about animals. He is married to Dr May Mashego-Mkhize and they have two children, Nokulinda and Dedani.

State Capture

Mkhize is adamant there’s a need for allegations of state capture to be subjected to a non-partisan commission of inquiry and this should be separate from the one ordered by the Public Protector, which is being reviewed in court. He told Independent Media last month that he believes the president will appoint the commission.

“We also believe it has not been shelved,” he said. The finalisation of legal issues around the terms of reference were likely behind the delay in implementing the commission, he added, and the allegations around state capture, which in the main have been linked to the controversial Gupta family, need to be probed formally.

Radical Economic Transformation

Mkhize is a proponent, warning that the country’s democracy will be at risk if the ANC does not implement these policies. He believes young black South Africans are at the bitter end of a "churn", especially at private corporates. He said many black professionals struggle to reach board level of private companies because of this churn and there was a deliberate attempt to frustrate or alienate them and to ensure the pipeline for change at boardroom level was not taking place. However, he has assured the business community that he was not pushing for radical economic transformation at the cost of private business.

Corruption

Mkhize has been outspoken on corruption, state capture and potentially fatal party divisions. As the mood in the country changed, Mkhize realised he could not remain silent - silence could be interpreted as collusion - especially in the manner in which state owned enterprises have imploded.

During the Sassa debacle, he openly criticised Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini as concern mounted that more than 17 million would not receive their social welfare grants. Mkhize has spoken out about greed, materialism and factions and how this is now driving corruption in the party.

Political Baggage

Mkhize remains almost completely untainted by scandal - barring the R200m tender fraud scandal when senior government officials in the province were arrested. To which Mkhize denied any links.

Last month, Mkhize found himself at the centre of allegations that he had tried to persuade President Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo (Khwezi) to drop charges. The allegations have been published in former talk show host Redi Thlabi’s book Khwezi: The Remarkable story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo.

Mkhize said Kuzwayo had not raised any issues or complaints with him and he was puzzled about what had gone wrong between the two. Mkhize denied persuading Kuzwayo to drop charges.

Role in previous elective conferences

Prior to the Polokwane ANC conference in 2007, Mkhize played an influential role and was one of the main architects in Zuma’s ascendancy. He ensured that there was a massive increase in ANC membership in KZN.

In the five years between the Polokwane conference and the road to Mangaung, cracks started to appear in the party that had catapulted Zuma to power. And with the current split in the party, Mkhize’s thoughts on unity in the province are prophetic.

“For the foreseeable future the unity of the ANC will remain critical for the stability of KwaZulu-Natal and the country as a whole. It is impossible for a party that is divided to achieve unity of supporters and members of society in general if it is not itself united at its core.”

The Sunday Independent