As ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal switch from the politics of cult personalities to a game of political survival, embattled eThekwini Mayor Zandile Gumede (pictured), who did not see the change coming, now finds herself in the political wilderness.
A devoted supporter of former president Jacob Zuma, Gumede was swept into power by the Zuma wave that gripped the country from 2007 until early this year.
Gumede, who cut her political teeth in community-based organisations in Inanda, north of Durban, came into power after defeating SA Communist Party (SACP) provincial chairperson James Nxumalo in the chaotic 2015 elections for the ANC eThekwini regional chairperson.
Despite complaints by Nxumalo’s supporters that processes leading to Gumede’s election were flawed, both ANC provincial and national leadership structures — which at the time were dominated by Zuma’s supporters — turned a deaf ear, paving the way for Gumede to be elected as mayor of one of the country’s biggest metros.
A ward councillor from 2007 until her election as mayor in 2016, Gumede’s political career has always been dogged by allegations of corruption.
Many were not surprised when shortly after being elected as ANC eThekwini regional chairperson, she held a meeting with the controversial Durban business forum Delangokubona — known for using violence to get government contracts.
Despite protests from opposition parties in the eThekwini Municipality, ANC leaders in the province — including ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala, who is now the premier — at the time rallied behind Gumede.
Zikalala and other ANC leaders in the province who supported Zuma had been under pressure to protect Gumede as she was part of the powerful ANC bloc in KZN backing former AU chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s candidature in the build-up to the 2017 ANC presidential elections, won by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
However, contrary to what many believe, Gumede’s political woes did not begin in May when corruption-busting unit the Hawks decided to charge her with fraud and corruption relating to the awarding of the R200 million Durban solid waste (DSW) removal tender.
The embattled mayor’s problems actually began early last year when she and other hardcore Zuma supporters, including ANC KZN legislature chief whip Super Zuma, rejected a peace deal meant to unite the former president and Ramaphosa factions in the province.
Gumede and Super Zuma, who at the time was the ANC’s provincial secretary, and other Jacob Zuma loyalists, suffered a major blow during last year’s ruling party provincial conference that saw Zikalala and other candidates embracing the peace deal elected to key positions.
From there on, Gumede was no longer in the good books of Zikalala and others who had been in Jacob Zuma’s camp.
While Gumede and her supporters in eThewkini continued to project themselves as Zuma-ites, Zikalala and his backers — who increasingly appear to have since smoked the peace pipe with Ramaphosa’s backers in the province — made it clear that there was no longer a Zuma camp in the province.
By the time Gumede was arrested for fraud in a R200 million eThekwini Municipality tender, her political star was already on the wane.
Once considered a strong ally of Zikalala, Gumede is now not only out favour with the premier, who over the months has been entrenching his influence within the ANC in KZN, but she has been struggling to find enough support within the party’s powerful provincial executive committee (PEC), which will eventually decide on her future.
It is for this reason that her supporters have insisted that question of her suspension over the criminal charges should be handled by the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC).
There, her supporters hope, she would be backed by the former president’s supporters such as secretary-general Ace Magashule, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo and former Free State Agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane — all of whom have been implicated in state capture.
Gumede, who is the only prominent Zuma supporter in KZN still standing, in June suffered another blow when the PEC dissolved the party’s eThekwini regional executive committee, stripping her of her power as eThekwini regional chair.
Unless there was a sudden change in the balance of power within the ANC, Gumede, who clearly misread the political moment, will like many other ANC leaders before her, not be able to avoid the inevitable — exile to the political wilderness.