Johannesburg - In my opinion piece in the Isolezwe newspaper of Thursday, July 21, 2022, I wrote that the 9th ANC KZN conference would produce a surprise election result. I went on to speculate that businessman Sandile Zungu might be the surprise winner of the coveted provincial chair position, following his endorsement by former president Jacob Zuma.
I was hopelessly wrong in one respect and closer to the correct outcome in another. Zungu was forced to decline a nomination on the floor, seeing that numbers were not adding up for him. His rival within the RET faction, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, then provincial treasurer and current Finance MEC, was seen by many as the favourite to topple then provincial chairperson and sitting premier, Sihle Zikalala.
Even in his own RET-aligned “Taliban” slate, Siboniso Duma was not a foregone conclusion as the preferred candidate for chair. His surprise victory was the result of tactical genius by Zuma.
It became abundantly clear very early on before the conference that in some shape or form, Zuma would be a big “issue”. All candidates for the chairperson position either paid Zuma a visit to pledge allegiance, or they praised or defended him in their speeches.
The frosty reception reserved for current party and country president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the constant singing of “Wenzeni' uZuma?” (what has Zuma done?) at the conference were clear indications that the gathering of delegates was about Zuma’s political and personal interests.
It has been 22 years since Zuma’s troubles with the law started. The national prosecuting authority’s decision to charge Zuma (which the writer announced as then NPA spokesperson) was 17 years ago. In the intervening period, Zuma has successfully deployed the ‘Stalingrad’ legal defence, which has seen him litigate technical issues around his criminal matter, thereby delaying it.
He is fast running out of legal remedies (and probably finances too) to stay his prosecution. The ace that is still up his sleeve is his ability to raise the political and economic cost of prosecuting him, let alone imprison him. The few weeks he spent in prison for contempt of the Constitutional Court cost the country over 300 lives and over R30 billion, borne by the public through the state-owned political unrest insurer, SASRIA.
The riots and looting of businesses were mainly the reason the ANC was clobbered in many municipalities in the province in the last local government elections. Some voters were angry that Zuma had been jailed. However, in the main, they wanted to punish the ANC for the inconvenience caused to their lives.
The national ANC leadership and government would not want to see a repeat of last year’s riots. They would need a vibrant provincial leadership to stand on the side of the ‘rule of law’ and politically manage the fallout from any successful prosecution of Zuma, who is the undisputed party overlord in the province.
Zuma needs a firebrand as provincial ANC chair, and in Duma, he has found a charismatic one. He can sleep easier knowing that when (and not if) push comes to shove, Duma’s provincial executive committee will be behind him, all the way.
Duma’s PEC will ensure that when Zuma next appears in court, he will be supported by a sea of black, green and gold colours of the ANC in the streets of Pietermaritzburg. If the occasion calls for a stay-away in the province, in Duma’s PEC, Zuma he will have willing enforcers.
Zuma’s immediate political needs could not have been served by Zikalala or any of the other candidates. In many speeches he made as president of the Black Business Council, Zungu had been pro-rule of law and anti-corruption and malfeasance in government.
As a businessman, Zungu would also be against anything that would negatively impact the provincial economy, such as stay-aways and “shutdowns”. Furthermore, he has too much to lose as a wealthy person. He would have been seen by the Zuma inner circle as likely to stand with the Constitution and rule of law at the most critical time, if not buckle under pressure and quit.
To many progressive Black professionals and accomplished individuals, Zungu’s failed attempt at leading the ANC in KZN removes the party as a viable vehicle for their envisaged activism. Some, such as former journalist and corporate leader, Songezo Zibi, have been suggesting that the middle class gets more involved in the politics of the country.
The envisaged amendment to the electoral law to enable independents to run for seats in provincial legislatures and national parliament is undoubtedly being seen by many as a viable alternative path to public representation. Over the next couple of years, we can expect to see a flood of independents clubbing together during campaigning for economies of scale.
Such a move would lead to coalitions, such as the ones seen in recent years in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Kenya. However, with Zuma’s support and superior campaigning skills, the ANC would do better in the polls in KZN in 2024 than last year. Still, that would not counterbalance the terminal decline of the ANC in the province and elsewhere.
Mgitywa is an independent political and social commentator.