The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal is caught between a rock and a hard place, with regions threatening a revolt should the party not be “consistent” when it decides on the fate of several regional leaders today.
Embattled eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede is just one thorn in the side of the provincial executive committee (PEC), led by chairperson Sihle Zikalala, who was elected unopposed just over a year ago following a fragile consensus with warring factions.
The PEC is reconvening today after having met on Monday.
Members will receive a report from the provincial working committee on behalf of a task team headed by the province’s former director-general, Nhlanhla Ngidi, and the deputy minister of justice and correctional services, John Jefferey.
Among those staring down the barrel of a gun are provincial deputy chairperson Mike Mabuyakhulu, who is out on bail for fraud charges; KwaDukuza regional secretary Musa Zondi, who is appealing a murder and kidnapping conviction; Newcastle mayor Ntuthuko Mahlaba, who is out on bail and on special leave in connection with the murder of an ANC Youth League leader; and Gumede, who is out on bail for charges related to fraud, money laundering and corruption alongside ANC councillor Mondli Mthembu.
Sources close to Gumede – whose suspension has been extended twice already by the PEC – told City Press this week that in her submission to the task team she had warned the party to be consistent in their handling of matters.
Gumede, who is the last prominent ally of former president Jacob Zuma in the province, believes that it was incorrect for her to be suspended from her duties while Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan got to remain in his post while fighting to clear his name in court.
In her appearance at the Durban Magistrates’ Court on Thursday – in which her case was postponed to January 2020 – Magistrate Dawn Soomaroo relaxed Gumede’s bail conditions, giving the green light for her to return to work.
But, added the magistrate, that decision was not up to the court.
Insiders say Gumede will now arm herself with Soomaroo’s ruling, leaving the PEC with no choice but to end her suspension.
Failing that, they say, Gumede will head to court to argue that the ANC has been unfair, given that Soomaroo has approved her return to work.
The mayor is also considering taking her fight to the ANC’s national executive committee – the highest decision-making body between conferences – and arguing that she has been treated unfairly by the provincial structure.
The chairperson of the once powerful kingmaker region believes her legal woes have to do with the upcoming conference in eThekwini municipality, where her detractors will look to unseat her.
The conference was supposed to take place last year but was postponed by the ANC to prepare for the May 8 elections.
Gumede emerged victorious for the post over former mayor James Nxumalo, amid claims of improper processes leading up to that conference.
Her supporters say she cannot get a fair hearing from provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli – who hails from the region – because they believe that he has an interest in one of his allies securing the position of chairperson over Gumede.
In a text allegedly sent to Zikalala and seen by City Press, the ANC Women’s League secretary of eThekwini, Zama Sokhabase, asks that Ngidi be removed from the task team.
“The regional chairperson of the SA National Civic Organisation told the branches that were present that Ngidi is visiting branches and mobilising branches to chase away our mayor for him to be eThekwini caretaker. Chair, this is wrong because we trusted him to come with solutions as he is in the task team. We therefore ask you, my leader, to remove him,” the text reads in part.
Sokhabase adds that the structure does not trust Ngidi’s intentions.
City Press also understands that the PEC may consider firing a number of mayors following an assessment of the state of municipalities which were found to be performing poorly.
Firing the mayors, who are regional leaders, would set off a revolt against the PEC and could potentially ignite calls for an early congress. That move would require one third of the branches in the province to approve.
Besides the mayors who could be given the boot by the PEC, a number of municipalities are operating with acting mayors.
Ugu District Municipality, on KwaZulu-Natal’s lower South Coast, is without a mayor after Mondli Chiliza was deployed to the legislature following the May 8 polls, leaving a water crisis in his wake.
In KwaDukuza, Ricardo Mthembu was elevated to the provincial legislature, having made it on to the PEC after last year’s conference.
This left a vacancy in the mayoral office. Mthembu was also announced as the party’s new provincial spokesperson this week.
In Harry Gwala municipality, Mluleki Ndobe left the mayoral post vacant when he became deputy speaker of the provincial legislature in May. Ndobe faced a murder charge in connection with the 2017 death of former ANC Youth League leader Sindiso Magaqa, but charges against him and his co-accused were provisionally withdrawn in March.
In Mandeni, mayor Siphesihle Zulu was forced out of his job earlier this year, after the community turned on him in the wake of a month-long violent protest.
The embattled Msunduzi municipality – now under administration – is also said to be unofficially without a mayor as Themba Njilo is alleged to have told party leaders of his imminent exit.