In less than four months National Freedom Party (NFP) leader Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi has become a force in South African politics.
Her two cellphones barely stop ringing throughout the day. She is fielding calls from her foot soldiers who are keeping her abreast of developments in KwaZulu-Natal’s 19 hung municipalities, where the NFP and ANC have entered into coalitions.
The former district mayor of Zululand barks out instructions like a choirmaster on how to conduct the business of council sittings.
She is on high alert after nine rebel NFP councillors stunned the party on Wednesday by voting for an IFP mayor in the uMlalazi municipality, which was one of the province’s hung councils.
“We called those councillors in to talk to them. They apologised,” she says. The situation will be resolved by asking for a special meeting where a vote of no confidence in IFP mayor Stan Larkan will be proposed and passed.”
KaMagwaza-Msibi says there is no need to sack the councillors as they have apologised for defying instructions.
Just as she thinks the uMlalazi incident will not repeat itself elsewhere in the province, her phone rings. Bad news.
NFP councillors are at it again, this time in the uMtshezi municipality.
KaMagwaza-Msibi is now visibly worried. What astounds her is the fact that she had met the uMtshezi councillors on Wednesday and they had assured her they would honour the pact between the ANC and NFP.
KaMagwaza-Msibi warns that the party will not hesitate to fire all proportional representation and ward councillors who continue to defy its orders.
KaMagwaza-Msibi tells her staff and bodyguards, who call her “mama”, that it is time for breakfast.
At least seven bodyguards in three cars prepare for the short trip to the Wimpy at a local Durban mall. The bodyguards secure the restaurant before “mama” is ushered in.
Waiters, the restaurant’s management and patrons are as excited as small kids at the sight of kaMagwaza-Msibi, as if a rock star has just walked in.
A white woman goes up to her table, declares her undying support for kaMagwaza-Msibi and asks for an autograph.
“I voted NFP because the ANC has failed to keep its promises. It is no use to vote for a white party because it is the turn for a black government to rule,” she says.
KaMagwaza-Msibi happily obliges. She also gives the woman her cellphone number, inviting her to call her any time of the day.
She says she chose the ANC as an alliance partner over the IFP because her former party refused to publicly apologise for insulting the NFP by labelling it an “ANC project”.
She makes it clear that she does not want to talk about the IFP but admits she still respects and loves IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
She rules out the possibility of her party being swallowed up by the ANC or the DA.
“I appreciate Helen Zille as a woman. She can get anything. She is brilliant. She is very energetic, it’s like she never gets tired. But her party is for white people. The ANC has become a party of tenders.
“We as the NFP have a role to play. We have proven that we are not only a party for Zulus but for everyone,” she says.
She sees her work as a calling from God, not a career.
“I have done everything humanly possible to help people, especially the poor,” she says.
KaMagwaza-Msibi got involved in politics at the young age of 13, driven by an urge to help the poor. Before the hotly contested May 18 local elections she addressed an average of 18 public meetings a day.
Not even in her wildest dreams did she ever think the NFP would perform so well.
“It was phenomenal,” she says. Of KwaZulu-Natal’s 61 municipalities, the NFP won one and became the kingmaker in 19 hung councils, which were formerly controlled by the IFP.
The IFP only won two councils. The ANC won an outright majority in 39 municipalities.
As she leaves the restaurant she is mobbed by staff and management, who ask to take a picture with her.
She poses patiently before leaving for her office, ready for another day of “serving the people”.