The ANC’s decision to stage its events at eThekwini was a calculated move

eThekwini Municipality. File photo.

On Friday the 4th of January 2019 the ANC leadership descended in eThekwini to hold its List Conference at Coastland Hotel in Umhlanga. This conference lasted until Sunday the 6th of January. On Monday the 7th party leaders spread across KwaZulu-Natal appealing to the electorate to give the ANC yet another chance in the forthcoming elections. On Tuesday the 8th of January the ANC held its annual January 8 Statement at Ohlange in Inanda. These events constituted the build-up to the official launch of the ANC’s Manifesto on Saturday the 11th at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

But why did the ANC leadership decide to hold all these important events in KZN? Why were the events not spread across the country?

A simplistic answer could be that the ANC wanted to save costs and avoid logistical challenges. Another unsophisticated answer could be that the decision was prompted by convenience and simple logic. While these are plausible reasons, my view is that there are more sophisticated reasons on which this decision was predicated. I will enumerate a few.

Firstly, as the ANC is going through some turbulent moments, it was necessary to go back to the roots to derive inspiration. Dr. John Langalibalele Mafukuzela Dube who was elected in absentia to be the ANC’s first President was born at Inanda Mission in KZN. It was also here where he was laid to rest, not far from Ohlange High School, a school he founded. Besides Dube, KZN produced ANC leaders like: JT Gumede, Dr. Pixley ka Seme, iNkosi Albert Luthuli and Mr. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.

Secondly, former President Nelson Mandela left indelible footprints in KZN. It was here where he made his last public speech. It was also in Howick where he was arrested. After spending 27 years behind bars he came to Ohlange to report to Dr. Dube and others that the freedom they were fighting for was on the horizon. On 27 April 1994 Mandela cast his vote at Ohlange High School. This was a symbolic gesture appreciating the role played by Dube in the ANC struggle.

Thirdly, KZN remains the ANC’s largest province in terms of party membership. It retained the number one spot even when Mpumalanga replaced the Eastern Cape in the second spot. This makes KZN the ANC’s backbone. As the party’s unity reached its lowest ebb, it was justifiable to come to KZN to consolidate its power and diffuse remnants of factionalism.

Fourthly, KZN has experienced many intra-party and intra-alliance killings, especially between the ANC and the SACP. A message of peace was therefore necessary.

Lastly, Zuma’s issue was badly handled by the ANC. Emotions and political expediency superseded critical thinking. As a corrective measure, KZN had to be the site of the ANC’s major events to calm the situation.

While it is true that the ANC has managed to achieve most of its goals through these events, some vestiges of divisions have been somewhat conspicuous. For example, there were conflicting messages regarding some of the names said to be in the party’s list. While the guidelines and the criteria were clear, the interpretation thereof differed markedly.

One view was that those implicated in wrong-doing but not found guilty yet would be retained. This was in line with the National Constitution which stipulates that anyone is assumed innocent until proven guilty.

On the other hand, there were those who held the view that anyone implicated in wrong-doing even if they had not been formally charged or found guilty would be removed from the list. The SACP’s Second Deputy General Secretary Mr. Solly Mapaila insisted that his organisation would ensure that anyone implicated in criminal activity or any wrong-doing would be removed from the list.

During the January 8 Statement some members of the ANC made it clear that they still liked former President Zuma more than President Ramaphosa. This assertion was buttressed by the fact that the crowd applauded Zuma more than Ramaphosa. Moreover, as Ramaphosa neared the end of his speech some ANC members started shouting “Zuma, Zuma, Zuma!”

Having said the above, President Ramaphosa should be credited for his success in containing a potentially embarrassing situation. Firstly, while traversing KZN he ensured that the provincial leadership walked with him during the campaigns. Secondly, at the January 8 Statement event he ensured that both former Presidents Mbeki and Zuma were visible. Moreover, he acknowledged their role in the ANC and also deeply appreciated their presence. He even told the crowd that he was lucky to have them around him.

To some, this demonstrated Ramaphosa’s leadership prowess. They showered him with praises for demonstrating unity in the ANC. This was not a misplaced accolade. However, a counterview could be that Ramaphosa acted out of necessity; he had no choice. He could not afford to ostracise Zuma who clearly still enjoys a large following beyond the ANC. Furthermore, he could not be reckless in a province like KZN which is the pillar of the ANC and which has been engulfed by factionalism. Either way, Ramaphosa saved the ANC from potential humiliation.

Another point worth noting is that Deputy President Mabuza had a taste of how some ANC members and the media feel about his role in the 2018 ANC’s elective conference. Some still believed that he was the one who led to Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma losing to Ramaphosa by a mere 179 votes. Not surprisingly, Mabuza defended himself by saying that since voting was through a secret ballot there was no way that he would have known how delegates voted.

The commemoration of the late Peter Mokaba’s 60th birthday in Cato Crest presented the ANC and President Ramaphosa the opportunity to reflect on the ANC and the ANC Youth League. Both President Ramaphosa and KZN Youth League Chairperson Mr. Kwazi Mshengu admitted that the youth had failed to emulate Mokaba. They pledged to do more to keep Mokaba’s spirit alive. Overall, the ANC’s decision paid off.  

Professor Bheki R Mngomezulu teaches at the Political Science & Deputy Dean-Research unit based at the University of the Western Cape, Politics Department.