Durban - Political analysts have painted a grim picture of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal with one saying divisions had become irreversible.
The party’s biggest province is split between a faction aligned to former premier Zweli Mkhize, now treasurer-general, and a powerful figure in the province, and those supporting Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife to become president.
Mkhize, who has come a long way with Zuma politically, was believed to have switched loyalties and was now backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for president, a claim he has rebuffed. Talk within the party was that Mkhize was eyeing a deputy president position in the Ramaphosa bloc.
The president, without mentioning any names, said he preferred a woman candidate to succeed him. This has been perceived in many quarters as his endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma.
With less than eight months to go before the national elective conference in December, insiders say KZN has become a battleground for party heavyweights. “They are leaving nothing to chance. They are vigorously mobilising on the ground,” said an ANC senior member.
Analyst Thabani Khumalo put the blame for the divisions in KZN, squarely at the door of Zuma. Khumalo said KZN lobbied vigorously for Zuma building up to the stormy Polokwane conference in 2007, where he dislodged then President Thabo Mbeki. Since then, Zuma has enjoyed massive support in KZN.
But he now seems to be losing the grip he once held in the province. “Zuma failed to safeguard the unity of the province and the province will never be united again. The divisions are here to stay,” Khumalo said. In an unprecedented move, Mkhize last week publicly criticised Zuma after he dropped Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from his cabinet.
Zuma, whose term ends in December as party president and 2019 as the country’s, faces growing revolt within and outside the party . “When disciplined comrades break ranks you know that things are boiling up internally,” said Khumalo. The divisions in KZN, once dubbed the kingmaker in conferences, will dent Zuma’s campaign and that of his preferred candidate.
Zuma was pinning his hopes on his diehard ally, provincial chairman Sihle Zikalala to galvanise the province to rally behind his candidate, said another ANC KZN member. However, this could be a litmus test for Zikalala as he was at the centre of the disputed provincial elective conference, held in 2015, in which he defeated former chairman and Premier Senzo Mchunu.
Aggrieved, Mchunu’s supporters approached courts as they believed that the results were rigged. The case has been postponed three times. An ANC national executive committee member warned that “this might backfire for Zikalala and the Dlamini Zuma faction if the court rules in favour of the applicants. The provincial leadership structure will be nullified and that will be a big blow.”
The outcome of the case could change the party set-up, he said. The matter is set down for August. Mkhize, who served as provincial chairman for two terms(six years), was making inroads among Mchunu’s aggrieved supporters who threw their weight behind anyone challenging Zuma’s candidate, said one of Mchunu’s staunch allies.
Asked how the party could remedy the situation, Khumalo said, “They can’t do anything now the damage is done.” Another analyst, Bheki Mngomezulu, agreed. “The manner in which things have been done in the ANC is a recipe for disaster. If the leaders want to see the ANC alive they must act swiftly against divisions.” It remains to be seen whether Zuma will be able to win the confidence of his comrades in KZN who were instrumental in elevating him to the highest office.