How Zuma’s KZN tactic backfired
The court ruling this week that struck down the 2015 conference of the KwaZulu-Natal ANC has its roots in a decision by President Jacob Zuma. He went against the majority of ANC top brass in pushing the provincial ANC to hold an early election — because, his critics say, he knew this would favour his choice of successor at the ANC’s December conference. Now the decision has backfired, writes Sibongakonke Shoba.
President Jacob Zuma either slumbered throughout the meeting or intentionally chose to ignore the consensus reached by his comrades. Many ANC leaders believe the latter. According to those present, one national executive committee member after another who spoke at the meeting opposed the ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee’s application to hold an elective conference six months before its term expired.
It was September 2015 — and the majority opposed the rush to hold an election as the term of the PEC expired only in May the following year.
Insiders say 21 NEC members said the elective conference should not go ahead and only nine supported the application. As this was the dominant view in the meeting, those present believed it was a final decision, especially as the NEC had blocked a similar attempt tabled before it in March to have the elections take place in September.
However, when Zuma delivered his closing remarks on the last day of the September meeting, his comrades wondered if he had been conscious during the previous three days. Stunned NEC members cringed in disbelief as Zuma announced that his home province was going ahead with an early conference in November that year.
An objection to Zuma’s summary of the meeting by now-Northern Cape chairman Zamani Saul fell on deaf ears. National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete “told him to sit down because the president is the last person to speak”, said an NEC member. The president’s word was final. The stench of the proverbial rat spread, with speculation about Zuma’s motives. What happened next was the subject of argument in a court case that reached its climax this week as the High Court in Pietermaritzburg backed the 21 NEC members opposed to the early election. But the evidence that was not presented was that Zuma’s fingerprints were all over the political crisis in KwaZulu-Natal.
Back in 2015, Zuma’s home province was under the control of Senzo Mchunu — an influential figure who had defeated the president’s preferred candidate, Willies Mchunu, in 2013. Senzo Mchunu succeeded Zweli Mkhize, who had been promoted the previous year at the Mangaung conference to the post of treasurer-general. As chairman of Zuma’s home province, Mchunu was expected to double up as a commander of the Zuma defence team. At the time, the president’s scandals were tumbling out of the closet almost daily. Revelations about security upgrades being implemented at his Nkandla homestead were escalating to a huge scandal. The president’s personal life also featured on the front pages of newspapers. There was an expectation that Mchunu’s PEC would lead the campaign to put out the fires. But that never happened to Zuma’s satisfaction.
Zuma’s backers had also set their sights on the looming 2016 local elections. By getting rid of Mchunu, the group wanted to take control of who got deployed to positions after the poll.
Zuma’s allies were already telling him that Mchunu could not be trusted to lead a campaign to see Zuma’s preferred successor ascend to the Union Buildings, which explains why Zuma could not wait for Mchunu’s term to end.
“He [Zuma] imposed that decision. He said yes to an early conference and no one is going to argue with him,” said one NEC member this week.
Since the now nullified Pietermaritzburg conference at which Mchunu was defeated by Sihle Zikalala, the province has become the home ground of Zuma’s preferred candidate, former AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Zikalala and his executive committee have worked tirelessly to create fertile ground for Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign in the province. Zuma has become a regular speaker at events organised solely for her campaign. And it is only in that province that DlaminiZuma’s campaigners can rightfully claim to be ahead of all other presidential hopefuls.
But the high court decision threatens to douse the runaway fire that Zuma and Zikalala had hoped would spread to other provinces. Zikalala’s backers have indicated they plan to appeal against the decision. But Mchunu’s backers are already preparing to head to court for the execution of the judgment pending the appeal.
A special NEC has been called for Friday to give political direction on the impasse. Zuma is likely to throw his weight behind the calls for an appeal because his survival and Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign depend on maintaining the status quo in the province.