Zweli Mkhize: He put KZN on the map

2013-08-23 00:00

IF he wasn’t in politics, he would be a farmer, breeding Nguni cows and goats

This is what outgoing KZN Premier Dr Zweli Lawrence Mkhize said in an interview in 2009.

At 57, Mkhize is nowhere near retiring. He moves on to the next phase of a stellar political career, with his eye perhaps on a future in the country’s top job.

For now, Mkhize will take up his post as ANC treasurer-general in Johannesburg.

He was elected to it as part of the President Jacob Zuma slate in December last year at Mangaung.

Pundits see the move as a step up for the ambitious Mkhize, who will be able to cultivate a bigger national profile.

The road to the Union Buildings may be in his sights for 2019. However, first he needs to make his bid for ANC president in 2017.

There was speculation that Mkhize was reluctant to leave the province before his term as premier expired next year.

His nomination as treasurer-general last year was viewed by some as a move by a powerful grouping within the KZN ANC to remove him as premier and head of the party of the province to ensure it controlled provincial government resources.

Mkhize appeared reluctant to move full time to Luthuli House and for eight months he juggled both jobs as premier and head of the ANC’s finances, despite raised eyebrows about the probity of doing so.

Mkhize’s fans view him as a strategist. They believe he was forced to move earlier than he expected.

However, Mkhize will not waste the opportunity. “He’s probably working on a strategy as we speak,” one supporter said.

Considered one of South Africa’s gifted politicians, Mkhize beat the odds of poverty and Bantu education to become a medical doctor.

He went into exile in 1986, where he worked in ANC intelligence circles, while he continued with his medical practice in Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

He returned to South Africa in 1991 and began the hard work of setting up ANC structures. This was the time when KZN was wracked by violence during the power struggles with the IFP and later the uprising in Richmond involving regional leader Sifiso Nkabinde, who had fallen out with the ANC.

The events of those turbulent years continued to haunt Mkhize and his name was never far from controversy.

The IFP at one stage alleged that he was out to assassinate some of their local leaders — a statement that it later had to retract.

There was also an assassination attempt on Mkhize’s life.

Later City Press newspaper had to pay him R150 000 in damages, arising from a defamatory statement published in the newspaper, falsely implicating him in Nkabinde’s murder.

Judge Jan Hugo said at the time that Mkhize was a well-known political leader with an “impeccable reputation”.

The KZN violence of the 1990s left its mark.

Mkhize was at the centre of containing the fall-out. He is credited with having played an active role in the promotion of peace and stability in the province.

In the hurly burly of party political power struggles, Mkhize was not always popular.

In the 1990s he was narrowly beaten by former provincial premier Sbu Ndebele as provincial party chairperson. He was no sooner elected provincial chairperson in 2007, than there were moves by his detractors to muscle him out.

There was also the reported falling out with two of his fellow cabinet members, Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni, who were implicated in the so-called Amigos case. Charges against the pair were later withdrawn. The saga involved alleged kickbacks in the purchase of water purifiers from Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi and questions were raised as to why Mkhize was also not charged. He was KZN Finance MEC at the time of the purchase.

While Mkhize was once seen as Zuma’s right-hand man, there appeared to be a cooling of relations as others grew closer to the president.

On the broader provincial front, Mkhize remains a hugely popular and well-respected politician, who has also cultivated good relations with King Goodwill Zwelithini.

He is seen as a hard worker and a politician who has placed KwaZulu-Natal on the map. Mkhize has built the province’s profile, promoting it and helping to ensure it became the second largest economy in the country.

It was also under Mkhize that the ANC in KZN became the party’s largest power base, bumping the Eastern Cape to second place.

Mkhize was the longest serving provincial Health MEC in the country, serving from 1994 to 2004. He also served as MEC for Finance and Economic Development from 2005 to 2009, before becoming premier.

Mkhize has his work cut out for him as ANC treasurer-general. After Mangaung, the party’s coffers have been left all but bare. Our former premier and his Finance MEC Ina Cronjé were credited with getting KZN’s finances in order after it was faced with a R3 million overdraft.

If anyone can put the ANC’s financial house in order, it is believed Mkhize may well be the man.

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