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Zikalala: succession lessons for triumphant ANC factions

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Picture:African News Agency (ANA) – The resignation of Premier Sihle ZIkalala, who was ousted as chairperson, does not bode well when the weakened provincial ANC needs stability ahead of the 2024 general elections, the writer says.

By Sihle Mavuso

On Friday, former KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) ANC chairperson, Sihle Zikalala, resigned as premier of the province after three years at the helm and six years as a member of the provincial cabinet.

As expected, the ANC’s provincial executive committee (PEC) led by Siboniso Duma, who ousted Zikalala from party power, was full of praise for the man who hails from Ndwedwe, north of Durban.

It gave a glowing picture of Zikalala, even though it was widely known that staff at the department of economic development, tourism and environmental affairs (EDTEA), which he headed before taking the premiership in 2019, complained that it was difficult to work with him.

Equally so, staff members at the provincial headquarters of the ANC in central Durban had almost similar qualms. Despite all those glaring flaws, Duma’s PEC decided to ignore that and many other issues around how succession should be managed.

“The ANC accepted Cde (comrade) Zikalala’s resignation with pain and difficulty as he was still doing a great job in the province since he took over. We are grateful for the job he has done for the people of this province and we appreciate that he made a conscious decision not to leave office hastily.

“‘Cde Zikalala’s tenure has come with a lot of good in the province, including a number of provincial government departments receiving unqualified audit outcomes for the first time. We thank Cde Zikalala for his dedication to serving the people of KwaZulu-Natal as he was mandated by the ANC,” the party in the province said in its glowing tribute to Zikalala.

What the ANC in the province now should do is convene and map a way forward on how future succession will be handled. They should correct all the mistakes that have been made in the past six years.

Back then, even when the relationship between the premier, Sbu Ndebele and Dr Zweli Mkhize was at an all-time low, the succession issue was handled with care because they knew that any instability was likely to usher back the IFP to power.

Hence Mkhize only took over as premier in 2009 even though he had been elected the provincial chairperson earlier, in 2008.

There was no rush to humiliate Ndebele who by then was a political skunk in KZN and he was not liked by the Zuma faction that took power in Polokwane in 2007. By the way, even after he exited his position as KZN premier, Ndebele was given a national cabinet position and that saved him from humiliation.

When Mkhize was elected the treasurer of the ANC in 2012 in Mangaung, a vacancy was created both in the ANC in the province and the provincial government. Because the ANC back then knew that stability was paramount, Senzo Mchunu, who was the provincial secretary was quickly moved and sworn in as the MEC for education, thus preparing him for the premiership.

Mchunu went on to succeed Mkhize both as provincial chair and premier in 2013 after defeating Willies Mchunu for the earlier position.

In November 2015, the provincial conference was convened in Pietermaritzburg and Zikalala defeated Mchunu. To many in the governing party in the province, that was the beginning of a long decline and an end to civilised politics.

From that point Mchunu’s stay in power became untenable. Zikalala’s faction bayed for his blood, telling him every day that he was at their mercy.

In the end, Mchunu was forcefully ousted from power even when others in the ANC felt that for the sake of stability, he should have been allowed to stay on until the local government elections of 2016 had been concluded. It was feared that a disorderly transition was going to give voters an impression that the ANC was in turmoil.

All that fell on deaf ears, and Zikalala and his faction ousted Mchunu.

After the local government elections, Zandile Gumede, the former eThekwini mayor who had earlier been dubiously elected the eThekwini ANC regional chairperson with the help of Zikalala’s PEC, emulated him.

Gumede dragged out James Nxumalo from his position as the mayor of eThekwini. There was no decency in the way he was removed, thus setting a precedent that those defeated during conferences must be removed immediately from power.

There is still that lingering picture of Zikalala, who after being sworn in as a member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature, went to sit in the chair reserved for the Premier, Senzo Mchunu.

Mchunu was left embarrassed as Zikalala showed him who was the boss.

Immediately after taking power, Zikalala ousted Mike Mabuyakhulu, the former MEC for EDTEA. Former staff in the department still vividly recall the chaos they experienced during that disorderly change of guard. Some senior staff with institutional memory were purged, so much that others left the civil service for good.

Six years later, the precedent Zikalala and his cabal set has come back to bite them. If Zikalala had accorded some respect to Mchunu and allowed him to finish his term before ousting him, the province would not be seeing the chaotic transfer of power.

The province would not be changing pilots mid-air and at a time when the ANC in the province is vulnerable, on the back foot, and may lose provincial elections to the IFP in 2024.

Zikalala would comfortably be still in power until 2024 and would use the remaining years in power to build a formidable legacy for himself. Right now, there is nothing he can claim as such.

Because of how previous premiers have been treated by Zikalala, there is now a precedent that has been set. Sadly, instead of opening a new chapter by persuading Zikalala to stay until his term is over, Duma and Co. appear to be in a rush to replace him, thus presenting themselves as power-hungry fellows.

Mavuso is a senior current affairs journalist at IOL, covering South Africa and parts of the SADC region.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions