How Zuma’s KZN tac­tic back­fired

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - SI­BON­GAKONKE SHOBA Shoba is po­lit­i­cal ed­i­tor. Peter Bruce is on leave

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.

Si­bon­gakonke Shoba

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