Senzo Mchunu and Sihle Zikalala. Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE
Senzo Mchunu and Sihle Zikalala. Picture: TEBOGO LETSIE

The ground shifted beneath the ANC’s feet this week as the provincial conference of its largest and most influential province, KwaZulu Natal, was declared illegal.

Simply put, this means the 2015 election of the pro-Jacob Zuma provincial executive committee (PEC) was set aside. This PEC was led by chairman Sihle Zikalala, a Zuma ally and a key backer of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the ANC’s succession race. By virtue of the judgment, he is no longer the ANC’s provincial chairman.

Here is the rub. Those who lost the conference that has now been declared illegal are key backers in deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the party presidency.

Ousted former chairman Senzo Mchunu is on Ramaphosa’s slate as secretary-general, should the deputy president win the ANC’s elective conference in December.

The judgment could be a huge leg-up for this faction — but not yet.

There are various scenarios which may play out in the coming months as the Zuma faction seeks to extricate itself from its current mess.

What it means:

The judgment shows that provincial and national leaders side-stepped the branch to secure an outcome favourable to Zuma

The ANC in KwaZulu Natal has already indicated that it will appeal the judgment. This will take place on Thursday.

On Tuesday night, the now illegal PEC held an emergency meeting. On Wednesday, it was expected to meet the ANC’s top six officials for guidance on the way forward.

There are no guarantees that the province will be able to have the judgment overturned on appeal. The judgment was a scathing indictment of how easily internal democracy in the ANC is being manipulated to obtain outcomes that are contrary to the will of the majority.

The judgment indicated that the actual voting process and the results appeared to have been manipulated. It paints a stark picture of how the very basic unit of the ANC — the branch, which the party proclaims is the lifeblood of the organisation — was sidestepped by provincial and national leaders to secure an outcome favourable to Zuma and his faction.

An appeal may simply be a delaying tactic as the ANC limps towards the national conference in December.

Another option raised by a senior KwaZulu Natal leader this week is for the province to appeal to the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), which sits at the end of the month, to put in place a task team to take over the running of the province until it can hold a fresh conference.

The Zuma faction’s support has slipped dramatically in the NEC. However, it still holds the majority, so the setting up of such a task team is a possibility. The NEC would then be pushed to put in place a task team aligned to the Zikalala faction and, by extension, Zuma. The potential harm to Dlamini-Zuma’s December campaign would be minimised.

Zuma backers this week expressed relief that the court did not reinstate the old leadership under Mchunu, as this would have entirely supplanted the Zuma faction in the ANC’s largest province and have handed the December conference to Ramaphosa.

The Zuma faction is clearly on the defensive, while Ramaphosa backers this week celebrated the judgment.

This group also noted the lack of clarity by the judgment on whether the old PEC should be reinstated. It is considering lodging an application to ask the court to reinstate Mchunu and his leadership, so that even in the event of an appeal, the province will have a viable leadership structure pending the outcome of that process.

The implications for the ANC’s December conference could be dire — if the party does not deal with the judgment decisively and fairly.

It may hold another conference, but three months is hardly enough time to do so.

Should it fail to do so, the outcome of the national conference in December could be called into question. One option raised is to separate the KwaZulu Natal ballot papers from those from other provinces, to protect the integrity of the gathering as a whole.

How the ANC responds could very well determine who emerges as party president in December. With the Zuma faction on the back foot, expect a tremendous fight in the months to come. This may even include political violence.

The ANC is facing a keen test following the judgment — will the party allow factional warfare to derail a critical conference, billed as one of renewal and revival, or will it play fair?


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