How KZN ruling throws the cat among the pigeons in ANC leadership race

12 September 2017 - 13:56 By Ranjeni Munusamy
ANC President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
ANC President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
Image: Masi Losi/Sunday Times

Behind the dramatic decision of the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Tuesday morning declaring the ANC’s 2015 KwaZulu-Natal conference null and void is the ongoing discord among the party’s top six officials.

Judge Jerome Mnguni ruled that the conference in November 2015 was unlawful on the basis of irregularities that compromised the election of the provincial executive committee.

The central issue comes down to why the conference was held prematurely.

In October 2015‚ ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe wrote to the deeply divided province‚ warning them that the conference could not go ahead.

But the conference was held a month later and former KwaZulu-Natal premier and ANC chairperson‚ Senzo Mchunu‚ and his faction were ousted by the opposing faction led by Sihle Zikalala.

So why did the conference proceed despite the warning from the ANC headquarters?

Up until recently‚ what Jacob Zuma wanted‚ Jacob Zuma got – particularly in his home base of KwaZulu-Natal.

The president told the ANC national executive committee that the KZN conference should proceed early‚ effectively overruling Mantashe and other members’ concerns about the readiness and irregularities.

That closed the debate.

Even while the conference was in progress‚ there were objections and reservations.

ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize said at the conference: “This conference was called prematurely‚ originally against the advice of the leadership. But we agreed with the PEC that we’ll go on because we came to the conclusion that this conference is going to help us to build unity.”

Tuesday’s court judgment leaves uncertainty about who are the legitimate leaders of the ANC in KZN.

Zuma and his allies made sure the elections pushed ahead.

ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte was quoted as saying that filibustering would not be tolerated.

“We are not going to allow anyone to stall the processes of this conference‚” Duarte said.

Zuma himself addressed the conference‚ making the astounding remarks that he believed the ANC came first‚ before the country.

He also said the outcome of the elections should be accepted as final.

“Whoever wins‚ our constitution is that whoever wins is as good‚” Zuma said. "If the views of the majority move in the opposite direction‚ you must accept it.”

Now‚ almost two years later‚ with divisions deepening and intra-ANC political violence escalating‚ the province has been thrown into disarray.

Tuesday’s court judgment leaves uncertainty about who are the legitimate leaders of the ANC in KZN. Zikalala’s faction could appeal the judgment‚ meaning that a rerun of the elections would be put on hold.

But who is in charge in the meantime?

And what is the status of all the decisions taken by the province since November 2015‚ including the disciplinary process against ANC MP Makhosi Khoza?

The most crucial issue is what impact the judgment has on the standing and credentials of the province ahead of the ANC’s December elective conference.

After the 2015 conference‚ Senzo Mchunu was removed as premier and replaced by the deputy chairperson Willies Mchunu. Although there is no formal correlation between the premiership of the province and leadership of the ANC‚ his supporters believe he would still be in the position had the flawed conference not taken place.

Senzo Mchunu is now a key player in Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign for the presidency and is likely to the candidate for secretary general on that slate.

His hand is strengthened by the judgment‚ and this gives momentum to Ramaphosa’s campaign to take power in the ANC in three months.

But this is by no means the end of the affair.

KwaZulu-Natal is the ANC’s biggest province and there could be attempts to hold up national processes until a legitimately elected leadership is in place or an appeal process is complete.

There is however precedent from the 2012 national conference when the Free State was not allowed to vote in the leadership elections due to a judgment that invalidated its credentials.

But would KwaZulu-Natal sit out of the most high stakes leadership elections in the ANC’s history?