As the saying goes – there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics, but permanent interests. This week’s appointment of Sihle Zikalala as KwaZulu-Natal Premier by the ANC national executive committee (NEC), under the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa, serves as a classic example. In the run-up to the ANC elective conference in December 2017, Zikalala was one of the leading critics of Ramaphosa.
He supported former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as a candidate for president of the ANC and the country.
In August 2017 he launched a scathing attack on Ramaphosa, saying he was not a suitable candidate to take over as ANC president because he once deserted the party for big business. Ramaphosa’s bid to become ANC president was supported by a group led by former KZN premier Senzo Mchunu – who was defeated by Zikalala in a disputed ANC conference in 2015 – later nullified by the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
However, Zikalala was re-elected unopposed in 2018 after Mchunu was elected to the ANC’s national executive committee in December 2017.
While Mchunu and his allies would have preferred someone from the pro-Ramaphosa faction in KZN to be appointed premier, the ANC president instead opted to keep Zikalala closer to ensure unity and stability in a province ravaged by senseless political killings.
There were also those who lobbied hard for a female premier, such as KZN ANC provincial treasurer and MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nomusa Dube-Ncube, to replace Willies Mchunu as Premier.
A former ANC Youth League leader, Zikalala is in many ways the right man for the job as premier of KZN.
Political observers claim he is a unifier who is capable of uniting the warring factions in the province – divided between those who supported his election as chairperson and those who preferred Mchunu.
After a subpar performance in the elections this week, the provincial leaders blamed the decline of votes to acute lack of service delivery in many municipalities and, most importantly, internal power struggles.
Earlier this year, a group of former President Jacob Zuma’s supporters in the Moses Mabhida region boycotted all official programmes organized by the interim regional task team, choosing instead to hold parallel gatherings.
The governing party lost over 520,000 votes during the elections, a very sharp decline, which took the party’s previous 64.52% majority in the 2014 elections to just under 54% of the votes in the 2019 elections.
The ANC currently boasts 52 seats in the legislature, the highest it has ever achieved since taking over governance of the province from the IFP in 2004.
Currently the MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs, Zikalala takes over a province that has also been the focus of political killings of senior ANC members.
As it were, the wanton killing of politicians and civilians continues unabated in KZN.
Just this weekend, a man believed to be a witness in the murder case against Newcastle mayor, Ntuthuko Mahlaba, was gunned down in Newcastle.
Mahlaba, a medical practitioner by profession, was arrested at the Newcastle municipal offices in March this year for his alleged role in the 2016 assassination of Wandile Ngobeni, an ANC Youth League leader in eMalahleni.
He faces charges of murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
As one of the leading proponents of radical economic transformation, Zikalala Zikala is expected to prioritize economic growth and the creation of jobs in the province, which has a 23% unemployment rate. The manufacturing sector, a key labour-creating sector in the KZN economy, has contracted by 3.1% in the past year.
The sluggish economic growth has also negatively impacted on the ability of the provincial economy to not only sustain and retain existing jobs in the province, but also to grow the job market and reduce unemployment. Zikalala is also expected to deal with corruption in the province and remove those who are implicated – including the high-profile case of eThekwini executive mayor Zandile Gumede, who is out on R50,000 bail after appearing in the Durban Commercial Crimes Court on charges of fraud and money laundering.
Prior to the 2017 ANC national conference, Gumede was a close ally to Zikalala, who supported her election to chairperson of the ANC’s biggest region in the country.
Zikalala hails from Ndwedwe, 60 kilometres north of Durban. He was involved in politics and organizing strikes at school. He also played a leading role in the free education campaigns and calls for the formation of parent teacher student associations in the 90s.
Zikalala was active in the ANC and occupied a number of positions in various structures, even playing a role in the peace committee which was formed to quell IFP and the ANC violence between 1994 and 1995.
He was also involved in the South African Youth Congress, where he worked closely with Nathi Mthethwa, now national Arts and Culture Minister.