Although the novel coronavirus outbreak has shifted public focus from the race for power in the KwaZulu Natal ANC’s biggest region eThekwini, Inside Politics has reliably learnt that chief lobbyists for the two factions vying for control of the political office are hard at work behind the scenes.
eThekwini together with six other regions were expected to hold their conferences in the first quarter of the year but these political gatherings were thwarted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant lock down regulations.
The front runners for the position of ANC chairperson are disgraced former eThekwini municipality mayor Zandile Gumede who is seeking re-election to her previous position.
She is facing fierce contestation from Thabani Nyawose who was a key figure in the CR17 election campaign that saw Cyril Ramaphosa win the ANC presidency.
He is currently a branch secretary and working in the municipality as a senior manager in the Human Settlement cluster. Mzomuhle Dube, coordinator and spokesperson for Gumede’s campaign says they are hard at work convincing undecided branches to throw their weight behind the former eThekwini mayor.
“We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We have assembled a strong team who will push the campaign through digital platforms. We are focusing on those members and branches who have not declared their preferred regional leadership. The message we are sending is clear, ‘Zandile Gumede is the only leader who can bring economic freedom to the poor working class’. We want nothing else than a landslide victory,” says Dube.
He says out of the 110 ANC branches in eThekwini, about 90 of them have given Gumede the nod.
Gumede while a mayor branded herself as a champion of the marginalised, saying she was pushing for radical economic transformation to benefit the downtrodden.
Her leadership subsequently conceived the radical economic transformation charter which was eventually adopted as a policy for the municipality.
The policy ensured that mega projects and city contracts were awarded to black business people often connected to politicians.
In August last year, the ANC provincial executive committee resolved to sack Gumede along with her entire council after the city plunged into mayhem with service delivery protests breaking out in almost every township.
In its report, the PEC cited political interference in municipal administrative decisions as negatively affecting service delivery. Gumede is facing legal woes relating to allegations of fraud and corruption on a multimillion rand Durban Solid Waste tender.
On the other hand, Nyawose who is touted as a unifier declined to disclose the strategy his charges were employing, saying instead he has thrown his name in the hat after he was requested by branches to avail himself.
“I’m just honoured that the branches think that I can do a good job in leading the ANC in this region. This is not about individuals, but it is about the soul of the ANC and after the conference the only winner will be the people’s movement,” says Nyawose.
The fierce contestation and mudslinging has manifested itself out with both factions accusing each other of using food parcels to drum up support ahead of the conference.
This after reports that the factions were now squabbling over food packs donated to the ANC youth League by businesspeople as part of COVID-19 poverty relief programme.
Pundits believe the eThekwini regional conference will be a test of character and strength for Ramaphosa’s presidency.
After Ramaphosa’s narrow victory at the 2017 Nasrec elective conference, he strongly called for unity and renewal, calling for members who had not supported his candidacy to bury the hatchet.
Apart from this, a victory for any of the factions will see them calling the shots and dominating the political process of selecting candidates for councillors and mayoral positions ahead of the 2021 Local Government Elections.
Xolani Dube, KZN based political analyst and senior researcher at Xubera Research Institute says Gumede, although a compromised candidate still commands strong support on the ground.
“It’s quite obvious that the ANC top brass has failed to deal with the dominance of Gumede. Part of the reason is because she is a popular figure within branches you can almost equate her to former President Jacob Zuma. While mayor she did well on projecting herself as a Messiah and a liberator of the poor,” explains Dube.
The aftermath of the eThekwini conference will also shape the political dynamics of the province with MEC of economic development and tourism Nomusa Dube-Ncube believed to have ambitions to be KZN first woman premier since the dawn of democracy.