The ANC’S treasurer is a potential compromise candidate in the race to replace President Jacob Zuma as party leader at the end of 2017. He is calling for the party to reform itself to staunch the exodus of supporters
IN THE DRY YELLOW PASTURES of Midlands, in the heartlands of Kwazulu-natal, the man who could be the next president of South Africa gazes fondly at the herd of Nguni cattle grazing on his farm and whistles softly. For Zweli Mkhize, treasurer general of the governing African National Congress (ANC) and a former premier of Kwazulu-natal Province, this is home. Small children scuttle around him, tugging at his sleeve: “The grandchildren love to come with me to see our cattle […]. For me, being with cattle is second nature.” Pointing to a boy of three or four years, Mkhize says: “I looked after them when I was as high as this little one. On my own. It was cattle that linked me to my father. Most of the time with him it was ‘Why didn’t you fetch the cattle on time?’, ‘Why are not all of them in?’ That kind of thing.” His father, a disciplinarian, died when Mkhize was eight. At the time, five cows had just been born and the young Mkhize had named them all, an important Zulu tradition. “I wanted to tell him, but it was too late. My father passed away before I could do so.” Cattle, says Mkhize, offer some respite from the rigours of politics. They are also a connection to Zulu
culture, its deep concern with cattle and their relations with people – the living and the dead. But above all, the herd is a livelihood. “We have sold some cattle for lobola (dowry), but the focus is […] to sell them off – not to abattoirs, but to other Nguni breeders.” A medical doctor, Mkhize appreciates the hardiness of these indigenous cattle, with their distinctive dappled coats: “Ngunis are very fertile, have strong immune systems and can survive harsh conditions.” Faced with the effects of climate change in South Africa, Mkhize says Nguni may be the breed that adapts the most effectively. South Africa’s febrile politics is in the midst of its own climate change. After the ANC’S drubbing in local
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elections last August, Mkhize was the first senior party official to set out an unpalatable choice: adapt or die. If the ANC does not change, it risks losing power at the next national elections in 2019, Mkhize warned. He and Zuma both hail from KwazuluNatal, but an ANC insider told The Africa Report the two men are no longer close, even if they still respect each other’s political skills. Apart from the generational differences – Mkhize is 60, Zuma 74 – they are also backing different sides in the battle for control of the ANC in their home province. Whether they can strike a deal on the national stage is an open question. According to Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC, there are six contenders for the party’s presidency ahead of the elective conference at the end of the year. In the reckoning of many activists, Mkhize is just behind the two frontrunners – deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and outgoing African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-zuma. Officials fear that factional disputes ahead of the election could further weaken the party. Ramaphosa has the endorsement of the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party; DlaminiZuma has backing from the ANC women’s and youth leagues, and tacit support from ex-husband Jacob Zuma. That could help a candidate outside the duel between Ramaphosa and Dlamini-zuma. At the beginning of another bruising year for the ANC, the prospect of a Mkhize presidency pulling the party together looks increasingly appealing for many activists watching the onward march of their opposition rivals.
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