South Africa: KwaZuma-Natal

By Khadija Sharife in Durban and Sue Cullinan
Posted on Wednesday, 12 October 2011 14:50

With political battles looming on every front, President Jacob Zuma is counting on allies in his home province to deliver him a second term 
in 2012

As the African National Congress (ANC) approaches the centenary of its founding in 1912, the ruling party is facing deeper internal division than at any time in its history. Despite the party’s electoral dominance, tensions are running so high ahead of next December’s crucial ANC national conference that factions are already battling for and against the re-election of Jacob Zuma as party president in 2012 and national president in 2014.

The power base that might just bring Zuma a second term is his home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). As much as 70% of the ANC’s new membership is said to come from the province; figures have doubled since 2007 and now represent more than a fifth of Zuma’s target of one million members nationwide.

The importance of Zuma’s home province to the ANC became evident after the May 2011 local government elections when the ANC lost ground in all other provinces save KZN, where it scooped two-thirds of the municipalities and all but wiped out the once-dominant Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

“The province, with its specific history, is essential to the ANC, both as a political movement in elections, and for internal struggles for succession of the top leadership,” says Professor Gerhard Maré, a sociologist and political analyst at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

In particular, KZN may now hold the key for President Zuma’s bid to remain as both party and national president. Born in the now-prosperous town of Nkandla in what was then called Zululand, Zuma played an important role in the province’s political history, operating underground for the ANC before and after his jail term on Robben Island, from 1963-1973, and becoming the ANC’s provincial chairman after the party’s unbanning in 1990.

KZN’s turbulent history has been scarred for decades by violent clashes between the ANC and the IFP during which an estimated 5,000 people have died. It was Zuma’s intercession as ANC national chairperson that helped diffuse tension after the IFP’s narrow victory in the 1994 national elections, and since Zuma’s rise to power the IFP has all but disappeared as a political force. Many Zulu citizens of KZN now equate Zuma as president with Zuma as ‘patron-in-chief’ of the province’s interests.

“There was a renewed surge of loyalty in December 2007 when, for the first time since Albert Luthuli four decades ago, a local hero –Jacob Zuma – took over the ANC presidency, and that regional loyalty resides deep within the soul of the body populace,” says Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society at UKZN. “That means that KZN activists who oppose the ruling party’s neo-liberal nationalist politics have a triple hurdle: over the state’s patronage power, over ethnic identification, and over a particularly wicked security apparatus and political culture in this province.”

KZN may now hold the key for Zuma’s bid to remain as both party and national president

The ethnic identity constructed by the IFP under its long-time leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi is now theatrically embraced by Zuma – ­from polygamy to traditional Zulu dancing – qualities that sway many Zulus to regard him as an anointed chief. Ethnic mobilisation runs counter to the ANC’s historic tradition of non-racialism, but it has enabled Zuma to swing KZN voters to the ANC when the party was losing national steam under former President Mbeki, and now, as it faces its darkest hour.

KZN now boasts an impressive array of top security officials in the cabinet, including state security minister Siyabonga Cwele; national police commissioner Bheki Cele; justice minister Jeff Radebe; national prosecuting agency (NPA) director Menzi Simelane and national intelligence (NIA) chief Riaz ‘Mo’ Shaik.

Zuma counts finance minister Pravin Gordhan and higher education minister Blade Nzimande among his KZN ‘homeboys’, and recently ­appointed Newcastle-born Mac Maharaj as his spokesperson.

Regionally, Zuma’s key KZN ally is Dr Zweli Mkhize, appointed KZN premier in 2009. A member of the ANC’s national executive, Mkhize was controversially named in 2010 in an alleged plot to challenge Zuma (see below), a charge he claimed was nothing but “ill conceived and devious gossip”. In a written statement to The Africa Report, Mkhize described himself as: “The Chairperson of the ANC in KZN, Dr Zweli Mkhize, the entire provincial leadership including regions and branches and general membership as a whole remain solidly in support of President Zuma as the leader of the ANC and President of the Republic of South Africa.”

The Malema Issue

One person Zuma has not been able to co-opt is a man many regarded as his personal creation – Julius Malema, the 30-year-old leader of the volatile ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Malema faced an internal ANC hearing in early September for bringing the organisation into disrepute (see page 30), and his castigation appears to have strengthened Zuma’s hand.

“There is no serious threat posed to the ANC from other political parties,” Dr Essop Pahad, former Minister in the Presidency of Thabo Mbeki, told The Africa Report on 23 August. “If there is a threat,” he continued,”it will be from inside the ANC.” Pahad insisted that, in his view, the ANC would not splinter, irrespective of the factions within the ANC vying to remove the President, including ‘the Malema issue’: “Zuma is still in the driver’s seat.”

But the ‘Malema issue’ is not likely to disappear any time soon, says political analyst Dr Dale McKinley, a former member of the South African Communist Party (SACP): “The Tokyos, Phosas, Mashatiles – they are playing the waiting game, allowing Malema to be the front guy and put in the cracks.” ANC executives Tokyo Sexwale, Mathews Phosa and Paul Mashatile have all been named as potential challengers to Zuma.

“If Zuma succeeds in disciplining Malema, the others may well retreat into the shadows, and he would clearly have the upper hand,” says McKinley.

But there is no guarantee that silencing Malema would put the Youth League to rest. KZN’s Sindiso Magaqa, the ANCYL secretary general, was charged along with Malema, and the League’s provincial secretary, Bheki Mtolo, is in no doubt about ANCYL loyalties: “We have over 62,000 members in KZN. This increase – the bulk of it, came about under president Malema’s rule, not President Zuma. They are loyal to Malema, not Zuma.”

Dark Forces

Evidence of other divisions within the ANC-KZN also emerged when a secret report entitled ‘Ground Coverage Intelligence Report on KwaZulu-Natal’ was leaked in April this year during the bail hearing of crime intelligence chief Lt-Gen Richard Mdluli, who’d been charged with a murder that happened in 1999.

The report, which appeared to have been declassified and signed by Mdluli on 24 November 2010, detailed a plot to unseat Zuma, naming Sexwale, Mkhize, Nzimande and others as conspirators. Sexwale threatened to sue. “Who commanded Mdluli to conduct this covert operation, what exactly were his orders and what was the motive? To whom was General Mdluli reporting; which other officers or persons was he, Mdluli, working with at his level?” Sexwale asked. No one has yet provided any answers.

“Putting the cat among the pigeons,” says political analyst McKinley, “is a tactical move to destroy other people’s possibilities.” McKinley compared the Mdluli affair to another intelligence leak, the ‘Browse Mole Report’ that was released in 2007 alleging that Zuma had backing from Libya and Angola to overthrow Mbeki, and an earlier ‘plot’ in 2001 that named Sexwale and Phosa as conspirators.

The murky world of intelligence hit a new low in September with reports that Zuma’s supposed ally, state security minister Siyabonga Cwele, had fired three top officials, including Zuma’s trusted spy chief Mo Shaik. Gibson Njenje, the head of the State Security Agency’s (SSA) domestic branch was said to have resigned after a showdown about security protection for Cwele’s wife Sheryl, convicted of drug trafficking offences in May. Cwele also attempted to fire SSA director general Jeff Maqetuka. Who can Zuma now trust?


The placement of Zuma allies in top positions throughout KZN, beginning with Mkhize as premier but including regional councils and scores of municipalities, began to backfire during the local government elections in May 2011, when aggrieved factions staged a sit-in at the Msunduzi (Pietermaritzburg) offices and attacked Premier Mkhize’s car. “What is happening in Msunduzi is an indication of the patronage within the ANC. The aim is to consolidate strategic government positions to control tenders, with money then flowing to certain people’s campaigns for office within the ANC,” an SACP youth leader told the Mail and Guardian newspaper in July. Eleven regions, including the metropolitan eThekwini (Durban) area, are to hold elections between August and November this year. “What we have seen in the past is that people who get elected in these conferences become very influential. Regional conferences paved the way for Zuma,” said an Inkatha Freedom Party MP, Velaphi Ndlovu.

In late August, Mkhize, who is also co-chairman of the KZN Growth Coalition, hosted a breakfast to soothe the fears of the province’s business community, described as ‘jittery and anxious’ by Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew Layman. Business capital is increasingly wary of KZN’s increasingly tainted reputation: scandalously crooked deals ranging from bus tenders to that of metro cop S’bu Mpisane (and his wife’s) multi-million housing tenders, reveal the province to be awash in corruption.

The most recent example of ‘Tendergate’ alleges that high-ranking Mkhize allies including KZN’s MEC for economic development Mike Mabuyakhulu and KZN legislature speaker Peggy Nkonyeni, were implicated in corruption and fraud regarding ‘undue diligence’ in a tendering process. The two, alongside other Zuma backers such as former treasury boss Sipho Shabalala and ANC provincial finance manager Delani Mzila, are implicated in ‘Amigos-Gate’ – named for an R1m ‘donation’ allegedly paid to ANC officials in 2007 by Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi, in exchange for a R44m government tender to supply provincial hospitals with cost-inflated water purification plants. Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni are currently on R100,000 ($14,000) bail terms, and due to appear in court on 20 January 2012 to set a date for the trial.

Mkhize himself has cause to worry: he reportedly signed off on the deal as MEC for finance and economic development at the time. In a written statement to The Africa Report, Mkhize confirmed that he had “previously made statements at the request of the Hawks [investigating authorities] on 9 September 2010”, but said there “has been no communication whatsoever which serves as a notice to call Dr Zweli Mkhize in this matter.”

The Role Of Business

According to former minister Pahad, accusations of malpractice have to be diagnosed in context. “There are always two parties: the corruptor and the corrupted. Someone – whether white or black capital – ­is clearly paying. What is required is firm action and a balanced approach toward identifying what facilitates corruption and how the wheels are greased,” he told The Africa Report.

As for Zuma’s direct role, McKinley refers to a system of patronage. “It works almost like a corporation with various subsidiaries. Though it is very hard to connect the dots back to Zuma – deniability is key – it’s clear that he is the godfather, sitting on top of the pyramid comprised of tactically useful business and political elites.”

“There are many tycoons who have nailed their colours to the Zuma mast, all claiming close friendships and long-standing loyalties rather than business interests,” says Prof. Maré. They include Saantha Naidu, Vivian Reddy, the Guptas, the Shaiks and Roy Moodley. Pahad argues, “I don’t think that small or big business from the KZN can, on its own, have an impact nationally.”

Nevertheless, the tangled web of deals and tenders, if properly investigated, could compromise Zuma’s KZN power base. The trade union federation COSATU recently called for its leaders in the province to declare their financial and business interests, and this could set a precedent. While ANC members have been forced to show support for officials under investigation, such loyalties will be sorely tested as the ANC national conference approaches.

As it stands, factions within the ANC are faced with two choices: making do with Zuma, or splintering the hand that so generously feeds them. “At the end of the day,” said one insider, “the dark horses are betting their money as they would a poker game. The overall feeling right now is better the devil you know.” ■

This article was first published in the October edition of The Africa Report, on sale at newsstands, via print subscription or digital edition

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