Zandile Gumede. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Zandile Gumede. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The axing of corruption-accused eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede indicates that ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa is strengthening his hand over the governing party, political analysts say.

Ramaphosa is facing an intensified fightback from the ANC faction aligned to former president Jacob Zuma and his key lieutenant, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, which is hellbent on fighting his reform agenda.

Ramaphosa trumped Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s favoured candidate to succeed him as ANC leader, at the party’s national elective conference in 2017.

After the May 8 election, he appointed his key allies and ANC provincial chairs Sihle Zikalala, Oscar Mabuyane and Zamani Saul as premiers of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and the Northern Cape respectively.

On Tuesday, ANC provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli announced that the party’s provincial executive committee (PEC) had decided that all ANC members serving in the executive committees of eThekwini and Msunduzi municipalities should “be redeployed” with immediate effect.

“The PEC mandated the [ANC] provincial working committee (PWC) to ensure that all vacancies occasioned by this decision are filled within the next seven days,” Ntuli said.

Gumede, a key Zuma ally, was suspended in June after charges of racketeering, corruption and money laundering were levelled against her and other officials. The charges related to the city’s solid-waste contract of more than R200m in which Gumede was accused of using her political influence.

Gumede’s redeployment comes after the working committee recommended to the executive committee that she be recalled as she is unfit to hold office.

It also follows an executive committee meeting, which ended on Monday, about the state of local government and a discussion document on “revolutionary morality, ethics and integrity in leadership”, Ntuli told Business Day on Tuesday.

Gumede’s redeployment has nothing to do with the criminal charges she is facing, but rather pertains to the declining quality of service delivery in eThekwini, he said.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has been rocked by leadership disputes, factional infighting and political assassinations. This led to the party losing more than 10% of its support in the May 8 elections, receiving 54.22% of the votes, compared with 64.52% in the 2014 elections.

Zikalala has been credited with bringing a truce between the warring factions and rallying the province behind Ramaphosa.

He has been driving Ramaphosa’s reform agenda in the province, which is the ANC’s biggest in terms of membership, in striving for a clean, efficient and corruption-free provincial government.

The fact that Gumede has been redeployed indicates a “shift in political power” and that the party’s provincial bosses are willing to prioritise a cleaner government “over factional loyalties”, political analyst Susan Booysen said.

“If loyalties trumped everything, Gumede would have been supported irrespective,” she said, describing the move against her as an indication that Ramaphosa has a “relatively good hold over the leadership of the province”.

“That they will be redeployed means the ANC is probably trying to appease and accommodate these discredited mayors and senior officials to prevent further instability. The ANC is in a volatile position,” Booysen said. 

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said Gumede’s redeployment could exacerbate divisions in the party.

“She is a close Zuma ally, and that might have implications [for] how Zuma views the provincial leadership,” Fikeni said.

Gumede’s redeployment is not unusual, political analyst Lesiba Teffo said, adding that the ANC did not act against her earlier for fear of worsening the factions and unsettling this fragile unity [within the party]”.

The IFP, the official opposition in the province, welcomed Gumede’s removal, saying: “The ANC must do away with cadre deployment and [the] rewarding of incompetent and compromised individuals with senior positions.”

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za