Sihle Zikalala has defeated KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu to become the new chairperson of the ANC in the province, after a leadership contest that once again saw senior party leaders fail to arrest slate politics.According to the results announced early today, KwaZulu-Natal ANC branch delegates elected Zikalala by 789 votes as opposed to Mchunu’s 675.All those in the Zikalala slate won by a similar margin, indicating that there had been block voting at play. Willies Mchunu continued as deputy chairman after defeating Peggy Nkonyeni.Super Zuma – not related to President Jacob Zuma – defeated Nhlakanipho Ntombela for the post of secretary.Mluleki Ndobe won the deputy secretary post against Mbali Myeni, and Nomusa Dube-Ncube beat Mike Mabuyakhulu for the treasurer post.The apparent practice of block voting was similar to what happened during the national conferences of the ANC Women’s League and the ANC Youth League in August and September, respectively.The effect is that potentially strong leaders get sidelined on the basis that they did not belong to the dominant faction.During the ANC national conference President Jacob Zuma – who also emerged victorious from two conferences in Polokwane 2007 and Mangaung 2012 out of slate politics – warned members against the conduct, saying it was destroying the party.The outcome of this weekend’s conference signalled that ANC members were loudly rejecting the views of Zuma and the ANC national executive committee (NEC).Ironically, Zuma yesterday used his speech at the conference to lambast former leaders like Kgalema Motlanthe and Frank Chikane, who have publicly cautioned that the ANC could lose its popularity if deviant conduct by members and leaders were not addressed.ANC NEC member Joe Phaahla said that although slate politics were evident during the conference, the people elected had a credible track record.Phaahla says there was a wide range of ANC leaders for delegates to choose from. “We are not oblivious of the fact that some elements of slates may have contributed to that,” he said.Phaahla’s colleague Jackson Mthembu said eradicating slate politics was an ongoing programme and could could not be achieved like “instant coffee”.“There are certain things that you need to work on,” said Mthembu. He said the party will continue to “work on the consciousness of members”.A lot was at stake in the outcome of the KwaZulu-Natal elections, including the province’s ability to influence ANC policy at national level and future relations between the ANC and its alliance partners.Zikalala’s most immediate task in office is likely to be the mending of relations between his supporters and those of Mchunu following a bruising contest.A united KwaZulu-Natal has previously been able to ensure that its political positions were adopted nationally, including the re-election of Zuma in Mangaung in 2012.Zikalala would also seek to lobby the ANC’s left alliance partners – the SACP and Cosatu – behind the new provincial leadership.Zikalala is seen to be hostile to the leftists as a result of another toxic leadership battle for the control of eThekwini in KwaZulu-Natal – the ANC’s biggest region in terms of membership.eThekwini has been without elected leaders since last year after two attempts to hold the conference failed. The first leg, won by SACP provincial chairperson James Nxumalo, was nullified after those linked to Zikalala complained to the ANC at national level. They preferred eThekwini ANC councillor Zandile Gumede.The rejection of Nxumalo in eThekwini by Zikalala’s backers – including the provincial leaders of the ANC Youth League – had been seen as an attack on the SACP and Cosatu. Zikalala is also linked to the so-called Premier League, a reference to premiers of the North West (Supra Mahumapelo), Mpumalanga (David Mabuza) and Free State (Ace Magashule) – also called the “Premier League plus one (Zikalala)”.At national level the Premier League was at odds with the SACP national leaders and had been mentioned as the key drivers behind the national ANC Youth League’s push for SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande to be removed as higher education minister.In Mpumalanga, Mabuza is also involved in a longstanding public spat with provincial leaders of the SACP.Earlier this year supporters of Mabuza violently attacked SACP members with sticks, knob kieries, iron rods and stones. Relations between Cosatu and Mahumapelo in the North West are also rocky partly as a result of the killing in 2009 of a former unionist who had been a corruption whistleblower.The KwaZulu-Natal conference was seen as make or break ahead of 2017 for the Premier League – credited for masterminding the election of the women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini and youth league president Collen MaineA victory for Zikalala is seen to bring KwaZulu-Natal under the group’s control – joining the North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State – and making the three premiers potential kingmakers in the ANC’s 2017 succession race when Zuma is expected to step down.The next battle in KwaZulu-Natal will be in eThekwini when the region goes to conference. The weekend result provides Zikalala’s backers with a pyschological advantage going to the eThekwini contest. But, unless the division’s are swiftly resolved, it may also be a springboard for Mchunu’s group to launch a fightback campaign.