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Zweli Mkhize locks horns with Senzo Mchunu again over the control of ANC in KZN

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize is riding high since he left Cabinet, and the planned ANC conference in KwaZulu-Natal’s Musa Dladla region in Empangeni marks a crucial test in his lobby group’s plans to establish him as a formidable force ahead of the governing party’s elective conference in December.

Scheduled to take place on February 5 and 6, the regional race sets up a proxy battle in the December national leadership race between those who support Mkhize, President Cyril Ramaphosa or former president Jacob Zuma – whose birthplace in Nkandla falls under the region.

The contest for regional elections will be even trickier, given that Musa Dladla is also home to several prominent ANC leaders who will be looking to show off their influence to maintain their seats in the party’s uppermost structures.

They include Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu; Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa; former labour minister Mildred Oliphant; Deputy Home Affairs Minister Njabulo Nzuza; and KwaZulu-Natal ANC deputy provincial chairperson Mike Mabuyakhulu.

But in terms of the two competing slates that circulate among ANC branch members, all eyes will be on the showdown between Mkhize’s group and those backing Mchunu – the latter being Ramaphosa’s lead man in KwaZulu-Natal – while Zuma will be watching from the sidelines to see whether the new leaders from either side will be willing to continue to offer him support during his legal troubles.

Both Mchunu and Mkhize have national leadership ambitions, but it is more likely that only one candidate from KwaZulu-Natal will be accommodated in the ANC top six, as other provincial party structures frown on the possibility of having two leaders from the same province as officials.

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For the regional conference, Mchunu’s wife, Thembeka, will be up against former Umhlathuze municipality mayor Mdu Mhlongo, who is seeking re-election as the regional chairperson.

Mkhize’s frontman and regional spokesperson Nathi “Madanga” Xulu is expected to contest for the secretary position against Mchunu’s candidate, Nathi Nzimande.

The full slate of Mkhize’s lobby group includes Musa Cebekhulu as deputy chairperson, Babhekile Mthembu as deputy secretary and Shanga Mgenge as treasurer. Their campaign message is to “renew, rebuild and reunite the ANC to serve our structures, better leading them to the next frontier”.

The Mchunu slateincludes current regional secretary Tholi Gwala as deputy chairperson, Mthoko Dlamini as deputy secretary and Lindo Phungula as treasurer. Their campaign message is “unity in action”.


Early indications suggest that the lobby group associated with Mkhize – whose political star has been rising since he resigned from Ramaphosa’s executive amid allegations of personal protective equipment corruption – enjoys a healthy lead, claiming 60 out of the 75 branches that sat last year for nominations of new regional leaders.

The region has more than 100 branches and requires a little more than 70 to pass the membership audit before the regional conference can sit.

City Press has learnt that only 45 of those branches that convened last year were declared to be in good standing following a membership audit, and those that failed were instructed to sit again.

Provincial ANC secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli would only say that, judging by the number of successful branch general meetings so far, it was likely that the conference would sit anytime between the end of this month and early next month.

Despite the apparent advantage to the Mkhize group, the Ramaphosa camp is confident that it can cause an upset based on the ongoing reconfiguration of branch executive committees and the possibility of floor crossing.

A lobbyist close to Mchunu said: At the moment, it’s not about numbers. Comrades are switching sides like it’s going out of fashion. Many can see it’s over and, once nominated, they switch sides leading to conference.

“Everyone knows Mchunu will emerge as the new secretary-general of the ANC and now it’s about ground realignment. It’s only the Zuma factor that remains a challenge, but, at conference, it will fail because of greed and selfishness.”

The lobbyist said their focus was on branch composition throughout the province because almost the entire province has new branch leaders – and “that is the Cyril advantage”.


Mthethwa said his branch, King Dingiswayo in ward 8 of Mfolozi Local Municipality, “is one of the branches that are still to sit to discuss the content of the regional conference, including the leadership question”.

“National leaders should play a role in assisting branches to develop politically in the main, but since the branch has not had time to meet, it would be difficult to tell how it will deal with the question of leadership.

“I know that, as a branch, King Dingiswayo will be able to deal with that matter on its own. The conference preparations will play a big role in reviving branches that have not been effective, especially for the past two years.”

Mchunu agreed, saying that it is in fact a “constitutional requirement” for senior ANC leaders to play an active role at branch level. He said it was an opportunity to share experience and advice with branch members in ward 23.

He said the ANC in the region recently lost all the municipalities that it was governing to the IFP, starting with uMhlathuze, “even though we have a remarkable representation from wards”.

“It is an experience which we last had before 2004. We have set ourselves back to the pre-2004 period. When your electorate sees certain things in you, they will do what they did, including not voting. A huge number of people simply did not vote.

“The reason they did not vote is that they saw something in those who are in leadership positions in government. It is no secret that we have reached unprecedented levels of corruption and service delivery [is] far lower than expected. We have not generally been decisive in turning things around for many of the people in our areas.”

He said the ANC needed to go back to the ground and work harder to improve people’s lives and show them that “we don’t abuse power, we deliver”.

Mchunu declined to comment on his chances of being elected to the ANC top six, saying that he was not fond of speaking about positions. He said he hardly spoke about politics even with his wife, who is also “an ANC member in her own right”.




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