ANC needs a political solution in KZN rather than just a legal one
The High Court in Pietermaritzburg this week declared the KwaZulu-Natal ANC conference of November 2015 unlawful and void.
A group of ANC members in KwaZulu-Natal, who had failed to have their grievances about the conference addressed by the national executive committee, had approached the court in July last year for relief.
They were frustrated by the non-responsive approach of the NEC to their petitions handed over in two separate marches to the offices in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal in November 2015.
A meeting eventually took place in December 2015 between the NEC, led by President Jacob Zuma and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, and randomly selected branches with grievances.
There was a promise to provide answers within five days, but that commitment remained elusive.Instead, the new provincial executive committee was inducted in May 2016, indicating endorsement of the leadership and disregard for the aggrieved parties. Thus a court case was born.
The five applicants, who claimed to represent 43 branches, approached the court on two grounds.
The first was that the early timing of the provincial conference was unlawful because it had not been requested by 30% of the branches in the province. Alternatively, they alleged that there were material irregularities before the conference (inadequate timelines for auditing membership and branches, appeals on the findings of the audit committee and holding branch general meetings) and during the conference (disputes on accreditation and credentials, and manipulation of the voting).
It is important to note that the court found no material irregularities - not even the tweet incident.
During the voting, a tweet by @MyANC indicated 1,459 delegates voted (which was correct), with Senzo Mchunu receiving 675 votes (which he did) and Sihle Zikalala receiving 789 (he received 780, with four ballots spoilt).
In politics of slates and factions it is not too difficult to tally votes pre-voting.
The court ruled that the conference was unlawful and void because it was prematurely held, before the fourth year since the previous conference, and without the request of 30% of the branches.The court relied on its own interpretation, dismissing those of the applicants and respondents. This opens the verdict to an appeal, as the interpretation of the rule in relation to powers of the NEC needs broader unpacking.
However, the ANC needs a political solution to the impasse in its biggest province.
While the court case affects only the PEC and not branches leading to the national conference, the tensions in the province could frustrate the smooth processes towards December.
Legitimacy is legal and perceptual, and the incumbent PEC is found wanting in both.
Even if it were to appeal the judgment and succeed, the perceptual illegitimacy will continue.
A political solution may require postponing the national conference in December, especially given the political fragility of provinces such as the Free State and North West, and the continued postponement of the provincial conference in the Eastern Cape.
The ANC needs to restore cohesion and functional unity (even perceptively if not genuinely) in its lower structures to avoid the national conference collapsing because of mutiny by a faction that might see itself potentially losing in conference outcomes.
The balance of forces continues to shift in KwaZulu-Natal, but factional divides have somewhat crystallised.