Obituary ­– Sun sets on activist who was practical

2010-10-09 16:41

John Zakhele Mchunu, the ANC eThekwini (Durban) regional chairperson and an MPL in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, died from pneumonia on Wednesday, a few days after his 46th ­birthday.

Born at Intshiyabantu village at Impendle in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in 1964, Mchunu was the first chairperson of the ANC’s sub-region at Clermont township in the early 1990s.

He worked his way up the ANC’s ranks to become the first ­secretary of its amalgamated eThekwini region in 2000.

Mchunu served as a councillor in the eThekwini municipality before being appointed as an MPL by the ANC in 2004.

In the legislature, Mchunu served as chairperson of the sports and recreation portfolio committee and was involved in sporting bodies at provincial and city level. He also served on the legislature’s premier and royal household committee.

In 2008 Mchunu was elected as chairperson of the ANC’s eThekwini region. As secretary and chairperson, Mchunu ran the region, one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the ANC, with an iron fist, developing a reputation as a highly shrewd political operator skilled in the politics of patronage and ­surrounded by controversy over behind-the-scenes relations ­between the ANC region and the city’s administration.

It was on Mchunu’s watch that the ANC region underwent massive growth and the ruling party all but obliterated ­opposition parties, in particular the IFP, at the polls.

Mchunu was also one of the key figures responsible for the region backing President Jacob Zuma in 2005 when he was fired by then President Thabo Mbeki, bankrolling rallies, prayer meetings and propaganda campaigns along with the ­ANCYL.

He was also behind the mass walkout during Mbeki’s speech at the reburial of ANC stalwart Moses Mabhida in December 2006 in Pietermaritzburg and was a key player in bankrolling the successful lobbying of ­delegates by KwaZulu-Natal to vote for Zuma at the ANC’s Polokwane conference at which Mbeki was ousted.

However the growth came with its own problems: recently the region was unable to hold its regional general council meeting due to branches failing to quorate and infighting over financial issues.

A flamboyant, down-to-earth man with a taste for 4x4s, leather coats and old-school caps, Mchunu was something of a contradictory character.

At face value he was an easy-going, laughing and humble man who liked to stay out of the limelight.

Behind the affable exterior was a politician who understood intimately the politics of power and patronage, and was arguably the most effective oiler of the party machine that the party has known in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mchunu was not an ideas man in the ANC, but he was a ­master at ensuring that what the ANC ­region wanted done by the eThekwini municipality was ­implemented.

It was Mchunu, not city ­manager Mike Sutcliffe or ­Mayor Obed Mlaba, who called the shots over a range of issues from the changing of street names to the removal of an ­elephant statue by the city ­because it offended his political sensibilities.

Mchunu also ensured that the region had a massive amount of power over the ANC provincial structure by virtue of paying its rent, running expenses and ­other bills.

The alienation of opposition parties and minority groups was not an issue for which Mchunu showed any level of concern, with Cope’s Hlengiwe Hlophe posthumously describing him as “antagonistic towards political freedom”.

A former shopsteward with the Cosatu-affiliated Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU), he was married to two sisters, Nompumelelo and ­Nonkululeko Zondi, who collectively bore him six children.

President Jacob Zuma will ­address his funeral at the Sugar Ray Xulu stadium in Clermont today.

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