War drums in the political battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal will echo throughout the ANC and the country
A few years ago, a senior ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal remarked of the province that it was not at peace - it just had an absence of war.
It appears that might now change.
Relative normality only returned to KwaZulu-Natal in 1999, when the political turmoil subsided. But there is a lot of unfinished business relating to the violence that claimed the lives of more than 15,000 people.
There were massacres that nobody was held to account for, caches of weapons left unexplained, and mysterious killing sprees that nobody speaks of anymore.
The cessation of violence between the IFP and ANC created the false impression that the volatility was behind us.
But taxi violence has been prevalent and is said to be behind the ongoing killings at Glebelands hostel. The recent spate of political assassinations shows the culture of violence is deeply embedded in the province.
However, the nature of the conflict now is different. The ANC has turned on itself and the enemy is undefined.The uncertainty and tension that hangs over the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal following the judgment of the High Court in Pietermaritzburg nullifying the November 2015 elective conference has raised fears of a resurgence of political killings fuelled by sinister forces.
The rift between the factions loyal to Senzo Mchunu and Sihle Zikalala, the competing chairmen of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, cuts deep. The divisions are manifested in regions and branches across the province, rendering interventions and unity talks futile.
But while violence is a big concern, the impact of this factional battle on the ANC succession race is the reason it is a national focal point.
KwaZulu-Natal has been a powerful constituency behind President Jacob Zuma. It ensured his election as ANC leader in 2007 and safeguarded his post in 2012.
Now allegiances are split between Zuma's favoured successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and her chief opponent, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. The dark horse and "unity contender", ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, also has pockets of support and stands to gain should any of the main contenders hit the skids.
The divisions in KwaZulu-Natal have implications for voting patterns at the ANC's December conference, and impede the ability of the provincial leaders to make deals with other provinces and the leagues.
Because it always brings the biggest delegation to ANC conferences, KwaZulu-Natal has had enormous lobbying power on the election of leaders and on policy issues. But this would be compromised if the province came to the conference in December with a delegation aligned to two sets of provincial leaders, ready to vote for opposing candidates.While this is a unique situation for KwaZulu-Natal, the battle for leadership is not.
In 1994, Zuma and the "Lion of Natal", Harry Gwala, were in a fierce battle for the provincial leadership.
Zuma was elected, with the backing of the national leadership under Nelson Mandela, but the situation was so hostile that Gwala was accused of plotting to kill him. When Gwala died in 1995, the ANC had to tread on eggshells at his funeral because there was so much bad blood in the organisation and political violence was already raging.
Even back then, the ANC made special allowances for Zuma. In 1994, he was elected national chairman while holding the post of provincial chairman. He was given special dispensation to do so.
Next in line for the position of KwaZulu-Natal chairman was S'bu Ndebele. At the ANC's 1997 conference in Mahikeng, KwaZulu-Natal lobbied to get Zuma elected as ANC deputy president, thus freeing up the provincial seat.
But shortly after Ndebele was elected, a battle began between him and Mkhize with factions forming around them. Ndebele held on to the post until his support for Thabo Mbeki set him on a collision course with his province during the former president's heated battle with Zuma.
When Zuma was elected ANC president in 2007, Ndebele's position became untenable. Mkhize was elected KwaZulu-Natal chairman in 2008 and Ndebele dispatched to do national duty.
Mkhize's honeymoon period did not last long. There was a push to deploy him nationally after a falling out among provincial leaders. At the ANC's 2012 conference in Mangaung, Mkhize was a key lobbyist for the Zuma camp and candidate for treasurer-general...