NFP votes in new first president

2011-12-02 00:00

NATIONAL Freedom Party founder Zanele Magwaza-Msibi looks set to emerge as the first president of the NFP as the party gears itself for its inaugural­ national elective conference this weekend at the University of Kwa- Zulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Pietermaritzburg campus.

While all top six positions will be contested during the three-day conference starting today, Magwaza-Msibi is the only candidate nominated by all party structures — branches to provinces — for the position of party president.

Unknown NFP leader from North-West Alex Kekana has been nominated by most provinces and NFP structures to be the deputy president, while the battle for secretary-general will be fought between KwaZulu-Natalians Professor Nhlanhla Khubisa and Dr Cedric Xulu. Councillor Mgezeni Bhungu Gwala of eThekwini and Scelo Mabika and Phumlani­ Zwane of Gauteng had been nominated for the deputy secretary- general position.

The Zululand District Municipality speaker, Mpiyakhe Hlatshwayo, and uThukela mayor Maliyakhe Shelembe are contesting the national chairperson’s position.

The road to the inaugural conference has been a long battle for the former IFP national chairperson, who never hid her ambition to succeed IFP president Mangosuthu­ Buthelezi as the next leader of the IFP.

Her hopes were dashed in January when she lost a Pietermaritzburg High Court battle to force the IFP to hold an elective conference after the party had delayed holding one for more than two years.

When the party was eventually launched at Curries Fountain in Durban before thousands of supporters most political­ analysts predicted its demise within a short period.

However, during the May 18 local government elections, the party took many people by surprise when it received more than 1,2 million votes, winning two municipalities­ in KwaZulu-Natal — eDumbe­ (Paulpietersburg) and Non- goma­ in Zululand. Through its co-governing arrangement with the ANC, the NFP has influence in running 19 KZN- hung municipalities. The results of the local government elections also showed that although the NFP was only three months old at the time of the elections, it emerged as the third biggest party in KZN and the fifth most-supported nationally­.

Magwaza-Msibi dismissed suggestions that the co-governing arrangement was the confirmation of closeness between them and the ANC.

“I hate it when people refer to our working relationship with the ANC on 19 KwaZulu-Natal-hung municipalities as a marriage because we will never be married to the ANC, or any other party for that matter.

“Circumstances forced the NFP to forge a working relationship in hung municipalities­ after the elections, as law dictates that where there is no outright majority parties have to negotiate co-governing agreements.

“Our doors were open for both the ANC and the IFP to approach us. The only condition we put to the IFP was for it to withdraw its accusations that we were an ANC project. They refused to do so hence we ended up choosing to work with the ANC,” Magwaza-Msibi said.

The co-governing arrangement has not gone without resistance from some NFP leaders. The Umlalazi Municipality was the first where NFP councillors broke ranks and voted with their former party, the IFP, to the exclusion of the ANC. This also happened in Mtubatuba, in Imbabazane near Estcourt and uMtshezi in Estcourt.

Although this was interpreted as a lack of discipline within the new party, Magwaza-Msibi attributed this to the tense history of enmity between the former IFP leaders and the ANC.

“Our councillors also complained that they were being undermined by the ANC by not being consulted when crucial municipal decisions were mooted, only for the ANC to expect them to vote with them when those issues are brought before the council sitting. We expected these difficulties as in every municipality there is a two-a-side committee to deal with disputes.”

Magwaza-Msibi said there is no going back to her former party “even if our relations become normal”.

“We are an autonomous party and we intend to maintain that status. We want to have a normal relationship with all political formations, but no allies,” she said.

The road to the elective conference has not been smooth as tensions developed during the elections at district and provincial level. In the eThekwini district for instance, the election of office bearers was held twice and disputed by factions aligned to two camps.

KwaZulu-Natal goes to the national conference having failed to elect provincial office bearers after delegates exchanged blows during the provincial conference at the Ladysmith Indoor Sports Centre earlier this month.

It has now been rescheduled for early next year and two factions, one aligned to former IFP mayor of Okhahlamba (Bergville) Vikizitha Mlotshwa and another to former KwaHlabisa mayor Bobby­ Ntombela, are expected to do battle for leadership in NFP’s largest province.

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