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

The KwaZulu-Natal factional battles that plagued the ruling party in the past 10 years are resurfacing following the suspension of  eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede.

Gumede was last week forced to take a leave of absence after being charged with fraud and corruption involving a R208m tender. Despite stringent bail conditions that forbade her to contact her subordinates at the metro, she opted to stay on as mayor.

In May, Gumede appeared in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court to face fraud and corruption charges in connection with the tender which was handled by the Durban solid waste department. Also facing the charges is eThekwini municipality councillor Mondli Mthembu, who is the metro's chairperson of the human settlements and infrastructure committee.

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Gumede is on bail of R50,000, yet tabled the eThekwini municipality’s R50bn budget two weeks ago. The Hawks are said to be investigating claims that she breached her bail conditions in doing so.

New KZN premier Sihle Zikalala and Gumede were leading supporters of former president Jacob Zuma at the height of the ruling party’s factional battles a few years ago.

After a three-day ANC provincial lekgotla at eMpangeni at the weekend, Zikalala forced Gumede to step aside pending the court case. He said party members who defied the ANC’s instructions to step aside after being arrested and charged with serious crimes that bring the party into disrepute must be subjected to “processes” within the party. He did not say what the processes were.

“Without casting any doubt or saying comrades you are guilty, as the provincial executive committee we want to affirm the decision we have taken that the ANC will subject that matter to processes within the movement. The party should finalise those processes within 30 days,“ Zikalala said.

He warned that deployees who refused to heed the party’s directive to step down would be removed.

“Stepping down means a comrade who is charged must take leave. If a comrade is not taking voluntary leave, the ANC will be compelled to remove that comrade. If that comrade does not follow that decision, it will mean we will have to recall that comrade through convening a structure and ensure that members of the ANC vote that person out,” he said.

At the weekend, Gumede said she had been “wounded by her own comrades” and had acceded to instructions from the party to step aside. But she vowed that she would fight on to return as the mayor and clear her name in court.

The party’s provincial executive also moved to disband its eThekwini regional executive committee which presided over the ANC’s largest region in the country. The region’s mandate expired in 2018 but an elective conference had been postponed to avoid a messy contest ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Gumede was the chairperson of the ANC in eThekwini.  Disbandment of the regional leadership effectively means that she does not hold any official rank in the ANC and would go into the next electoral conference — at which she has vowed to contest the position of chairperson — as an ordinary member.

After Gumede was arrested and charged, Zuma tweeted that he would back her through thick and thin, insinuating that she too was a victim of a political conspiracy.

“I have sadly learned that Comrade Zandile Gumede has been charged with corruption. I hope it is not politically motivated and that the state has enough evidence to substantiate this charge. I speak from experience from my own politically motivated charges,” Zuma tweeted.

Xolani Dube, an independent political analyst and a senior researcher at the Durban-based Xhubera Institute of Research and Development, said the province was headed for “interesting times as the battle between these party stalwarts is likely to have many casualties”.

“The position of the mayor is a poisoned chalice. Gumede came to power backed by a conglomerate of looters. Once she was in power she shut the doors on some of them and they are now calling for her removal. Her successor will not have it any easier.

“More than 60 ANC councillors are said to be implicated in the tender fraud. If that is the case, that on its own makes a formidable bloc when electing a new mayor. Also, Mama [Gumede] said she is not going down alone and could have information that could compromise many people in KZN. It may be that after she has served the 30 days of leave, she would be allowed to come back and assume the position of the mayor because she would not have been found guilty of anything,” Dube said.

Fawzia Peer, the deputy mayor, will act in the mayoral position until a new mayor is appointed.

The ANC Youth League in KZN has put its weight behind Thabani Nyawose, former ANC Ward 66 branch chairperson and senior eThekwini Municipality manager, to take over the helm.  Others want the outgoing eThekwini ANC regional secretary, Bheki Ntuli, to throw his hat in the ring. 

Key ANC allies Cosatu and the SACP are said to be rooting for former eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo to take over, at least until stability has been established and a new leadership elected.

makhayec@businesslive.co.za; mkhizen@businesslive.co.za