The gradual return of Zuma and how it could cost the ANC

Sihle Zikalala (Picture: Beeld)
Sihle Zikalala (Picture: Beeld)

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) has finally held its contentious provincial elective conference following numerous court challenges brought by disgruntled members who were concerned that the party is not in a state to hold a free and fair conference in line with its constitution. 

The ANC in KZN remains a hotspot when it comes to mobilising resistance against the party's transition towards some form of post-Zuma dispensation. Former president Jacob Zuma still enjoys support from ANC members in the province and this support gives more impetus for those outside the province willing to show support for Zuma. It is a headache for Ramaphosa and his efforts to win the ANC away from factional battles. 

What just made things even more difficult for the ANC in its attempt to rid itself of the politically costly ghost of Jacob Zuma is that his loyalist in KZN Sihle Zikalala retained his powerful position as provincial chair of the party at the weekend's conference. It was always expected that Zikalala would triumph. However, he seems to have consolidated his position judging by some of the resolutions that were adopted at the provincial conference. 

The conference resolved that the ANC national executive committee (NEC) should reconsider its position regarding support for Zuma at his court appearances on corruption charges. 

The NEC had earlier stated that members of the party should not go to court to support Zuma as party members. By asking the party to reconsider its position on Zuma, the ANC in KZN is actually asking the party to reverse its earlier decision to prohibit members from showing support to Zuma whenever he appears in court. This is the first indication that the ANC in KZN is willing to get involved directly in challenging the national leadership of the party on key decisions. If the national leadership caves and changes its position on Zuma, then KZN will be emboldened to keep on challenging the NEC's decisions. 

With a significant number of collaborators in the NEC and among the top six national office bearers of the party, the KZN ANC seems to enjoy a veto which will be used whenever there are dissatisfactions with the national leadership of the party. It is my observation that the process of bringing Zuma back to national politics is spearheaded by the ANC in KZN. 

This manoeuvre has potential to dampen the mood of the "new dawn" and it is to my mind the single riskiest move that could cost the ANC in the forthcoming elections. 

The national leadership of the ANC is gradually caving on allowing Zuma to be seen carrying out party activities. The current president of the ANC has had to make public statements showing that he is under pressure not to isolate Zuma from the ANC.

The KZN ANC is taking things a notch up by undertaking activism on behalf of Zuma. Of course, this is not about loyalty to Zuma the person or his politics, it is all about protection of resources and the patronage network that remains very useful in contesting power within the ANC. This is the network that is being used to push against the anti-corruption project that Ramaphosa is expected to roll out. Therefore, the ongoing power battle within the ANC regarding control of state resources is taking a different shape with provinces such as KZN becoming the centre stage to rally resistance against the "takeover" of the ANC. 

If the KZN ANC succeeds in convincing the NEC to reverse its decisions on supporting Zuma at court, this will also impact on campaigning for the ANC since party members will be asked to explain Zuma's "return". 

This is exactly what the opposition parties have so dearly missed in the past five months since Zuma was removed as president. The return of Zuma through the ANC in KZN is good news for the opposition parties as they will be able to demonstrate their relevance with Zuma back at national politics. It will be another own-goal by the ANC, and it appears more will follow.  

Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa's Turn.

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