Siboniso Duma might be open to a little horse-trading at the ANC elective conference, and casually dismissive of the threat posed by a DA-IFP alliance in his KZN backyard. But there is one thing about which he is unequivocal: support for former president Jacob Zuma.
So, for him, the Supreme Court’s ruling on Zuma’s parole rankles — in fact, he says it raises a red flag about a judiciary that is biased and oblivious to the mayhem its judgments can cause.
In a wide-ranging interview with Daily Maverick in Durban on Wednesday, Duma spoke about this and other topics, including KZN’s support for Zweli Mkhize, the province’s stance on the forthcoming elective conference (as well as a readiness to accept and work with whatever new leadership emerges), the threat of a resurgent IFP and his party’s strategy to retain KZN at all costs in the 2024 general elections.
Duma — one of the prominent ANC leaders who will be behind the scenes at the conference, horse-trading and making deals to produce the party’s new leadership — was elected to the KZN top job at a hotly contested conference in July, where his Taliban faction swept the floor, vanquishing former premier Sihle Zikalala and those sympathetic to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Pundits who have been keenly following ANC politics and developments over the years would know that Mthombeni, as Duma is affectionately known, is a seasoned player in party politics who carved out a niche for himself in the hurly-burly of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) school.
He is part of the new generation of former Youth League leaders who did not follow Julius Malema when he formed the EFF. Now they are in charge, holding prominent positions in the party’s structures in various provinces — and demanding change.
KZN is Zuma territory, where he enjoys widespread popularity. After his incarceration in July 2021, KZN and parts of Gauteng became a hotbed of violence, mayhem and looting, resulting in the death of more than 300 people, pillaging and torching of malls, warehouses and supermarkets. This led to the loss of jobs and investments, from which the province is still trying to recover.
The Zuma parole ruling
About the SCA’s finding on Zuma — in which it dismissed his medical parole appeal — Duma said everybody should be equal in the eyes of the law, but that judges must be careful about the impact of their judgments.
“Something must be done on the issue of the judiciary in our country… I think (the Zuma judgment) was bizarre, even if it was unanimous, that President Zuma ought to go back to prison… For us (ANC in KZN) the (judgment) is an academic exercise, because the issue of parole was clear when it comes to the (then) Commissioner of Correctional Services (Arthur Fraser)… he followed almost all due processes, such as the fact that Zuma is an 80-year-old and he deserves to benefit (from parole), that he is a freedom fighter and a former president of the country. As KZN, we fully support him thoroughly. I think he has been ill-treated by the system.
“Another part of the parole system is that if you are (already) in prison you are in a correctional system and if you can contribute positively (when you are) back to society, you ought to be given a parole… President Zuma has gone back to the society, he is contributing positively. People are happy… the communities are happy that Msholozi is back,” Duma said.
On why KZN ANC didn’t back Zuma for national chairperson
In October, Zuma announced he wanted to return to active politics and become chairperson of the ANC. But, as nomination results showed, no province — including KZN — gave him enough support to reach the threshold to be included on the ballot.
“The highest honour and the highest position in the ANC is to become the president. President Zuma currently sits in the NEC as the ex-officio of the party. He sits in the highest decision-making body of the ANC. He will die as president of the ANC. He does not need to be elected to any position of the ANC. He does not need any new mandate or support from us. He is the stalwart of the ANC. It ends there for us,” Duma said.
On working with Ramaphosa, should he win
The previous leadership, ousted at the July KZN elective conference, was accused of not fully supporting Zuma in his troubles with the law, including incarceration for contempt of court in July 2021.
KZN has been a political no-go zone for President Cyril Ramaphosa. In fact, hostilities towards him are such that Duma himself had to quieten delegates singing pro-Zuma songs at the KZN elective conference, so the President could finish his closing remarks.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “Siboniso Duma’s rise to power as ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson”
After that, the party’s KZN leadership was the first to announce that it wanted Zweli Mkhize to take on Ramaphosa for ANC president.
According to the branch nomination results, however, it appears that Ramaphosa will cruise to a second term unless the Phala Phala scandal upends him.
“We (KZN ANC leadership) are the product of the conference ourselves. In the ANC there are no winners (take all) and there are no vanquished. When the conference is done, we rally behind the vision of the leadership that has been elected… Each time there is a conference, you are bound to have a new leadership elected. There is no need for that question because we will work with any leadership that will be elected,” he said.
On support for Zweli Mkhize
“The nomination process went well. We are covered by the scope of and the background that was presented by Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe, especially when he outlined that it is not the end of the road. So… according to the constitution of the ANC, when you go to the plenary, those who are eligible to be voted can still be raised on the plenary (conference floor).
“Those results (announced by Motlanthe) are the true reflection of the branches and what they want and need at this point and time. Almost all our preferred candidates — those who were proclaimed and pronounced by us as KZN — qualified to be on the ballot.
“In a democratic organisation like ours, there will always be different views. We are glad that we pronounced the name of Comrade Zweli Mkhize and he qualified to be on the ballot. So, the issue of lobbying will be ongoing until the 16th of December. We are happy that all the comrades that we endorsed in all the six positions are now part and parcel of the ballot. We will continue to lobby the branches, the region and other structures.”
An eye on 2024
Duma said he believes the upcoming conference is a do-or-die for the party and will have far-reaching ramifications, for the ANC and for the country.
“That conference in December should be a watershed in a sense that comrades must unite, understanding that we’ve got 2024 elections. So, the issue of December conference is not a means to an end, but it is where comrades must debate policies and how are we going to implement to the T the policies that are critical to the economic outlook of the country, when are you reviving the element of the stronger branches so that you are regarded as the leader of society… as opposed to (merely) declaring that.”
The Ntuli surprise
The ANC nomination process threw up many surprises. Mdumiseni Ntuli, the former KZN ANC provincial secretary defeated by the Taliban faction candidate in the July conference, was snubbed by his KZN province, which opted to nominate the Eastern Cape’s Phumulo Masualle for ANC secretary-general.
But in the nomination results announced on Tuesday, Ntuli emerged as a favourite, receiving 1,225 branch nominations. Masualle and Fikile Mbalula, another candidate for the position, received 889 and 749 respectively.
Duma said that in the lobbying before the conference the province is sticking with its preferred candidate, but is open to negotiations and horse-trading.
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“We are going to follow and lobby, as I have highlighted. Branches in KZN have spoken. Let us just follow that process. We will outline our process going to the national conference and whatever will transpire will bind us.
“Our duty is to nominate and give mandate to ANC comrades to lead the organisation. If they are elected it is fine, but if they are not elected it is part of the culture of the ANC. Out of the nine (ANC) provinces, as KZN we are not duty-bound or entitled to get a position in the top six. It is always a privilege to get it. As the (KZN ANC) leadership we are talking to and lobbying with other provinces and regions (from now until the conference).”
KZN’s strategy towards 2024
The upcoming conference will not take place in a vacuum. In the 2021 local government elections the ruling party not only performed dismally, but also dipped below 50% of the vote for the first time since the advent of democracy in 1994. In those polls, the party garnered only 45.59% of the vote, and resulted in the loss of many metros, particularly in Gauteng.
In KZN, the party slumped to just above 42% of the vote, losing a string of municipalities in the north to the IFP and its alliance partners now governing those municipalities. In the eThekwini Municipality, the province’s only metro, the ANC hung on to power through a coalition with minority parties.
Duma believes his new leadership is doing everything to reverse the recent slide and is confident they will retain power in the province in 2024.
“We are going back to basics. We are rebuilding our structures. We have a lot of programmes. At the level of government there have been a lot of activities. We have started izimbizo, aimed at reconnecting with our communities and going back to the ground. We are a responsive state now.
“We are responding to service delivery challenges. We are overly confident that we will emerge victorious in the 2024 general elections,” he said.
The IFP and DA coalition threat
The IFP and the DA announced this week that they are working at forming a formidable broad opposition election alliance, with the aim of ousting the ANC in KZN in 2024.
Duma, however, said his party is not worried or threatened by this.
“The racist DA will try all the means possible to advance their liberal cause and understanding. Unfortunately, the IFP is the official opposition in KZN that seems to be confused… at times they gang up with the DA…
“But we are not that worried about the opposition. Our focal area is how to service the people on the ground… we are already in charge as the government of the day. So, what we must do is lead, we must be responsible to ensure that whatever transpires on the ground in terms of service delivery challenges, we are there to address those challenges. We have to deal with the issues of unemployment and inequality, the issue of Covid-19, the issues of floods and July unrest,” he said. DM