Political balancing act delays KwaZulu-Natal cabinet appointment

The delicate balancing act of satisfying the ANC’s competing factions in KwaZulu-Natal appears to be delaying KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala in filling the province’s critical public safety and transport portfolio. 

Sources in the party in the province said this week that despite intense lobbying by supporters of at least three key contenders for the role, Zikalala had not decided because of a need not to alienate them or their supporters ahead of a series of regional conferences in the province.

While party sources said Zikalala should announce within the next ten days, they also said the ANC deployment committee, which would make recommendations to the premier about which MPL to promote to the cabinet, has not yet agreed on a name.

Among those being lobbied for are former provincial secretary Super Zuma, who has the backing of the faction aligned with secretary general Ace Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma and MPL Jomo Sibiya, a central figure in the 2017 campaign to elect Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president.

Former eThekwini mayor and SACP provincial chairperson James Nxumalo is also being pushed as a potential candidate, as are MPLs Siboniso Duma, who chairs the transport portfolio in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature and Sifiso Sonjica. 

In January, Bheki Ntuli, the province’s MEC for public safety and transport, died from Covid-19 complications.

Zikalala appointed education MEC Kwazi Mshengu, who is serving his first term in the provincial cabinet, to act in the portfolio. 

Two months on, Zikalala has still not named a replacement for Ntuli, whose job included dealing with the province’s highly volatile taxi industry, drawing criticism from opposition parties concerned about the ability of a first-term MEC to deal with the demands of two such important portfolios in the long term.

While Zikalala will make the appointment, he will do so after consultation with the ANC’s deployment committee and after some consultation with the SACP and Cosatu.

One member of the ANC provincial executive committee (PEC), who asked not to be named, said the committee had not yet come up with a candidate who would be acceptable to all the factions in the province and its regions.

“The committee hasn’t finalised its decision yet. They are worried about how to balance. The premier also can’t afford to alienate any of them, so things are stuck there,” the PEC member said.
“We are just waiting to hear what the decision is. The delay is causing its own problems because comrades are occupied with this, rather than their work in the legislature and elsewhere.”

Another senior ANC member in the province said that the deployment committee had met several times but had not agreed on a name. 

“They don’t seem to be able to come to a consensus on a name. They have had three meetings already, from what I know. I’m not sure what is the issue of disagreement,” he said.

An MPL from the Magashule faction said they wanted Super Zuma to take over the transport role because of his seniority and to “give stability.”  Appointing Zuma would also “reassure” the faction that their leaders were not being marginalised by him, now that the leadership in the province is aligned with President Ramaphosa.

“If the premier is interested in balance, he will appoint Super. If he appoints Jomo or one of the other junior comrades ahead of him, we will be asking questions,” the MPL said.

“It’s in his hands as chairperson.” 

While Zikalala and the province opposed Ramaphosa in the run-up to the 2017 ANC national conference, sentiment has since shifted, with a “unity” leadership under Zikalala being elected in 2018.

However, they have been careful not to alienate the Magashule/Zuma faction, which remains a force in the province and its regions, ahead of the regional conferences and the local government elections.

Another ANC source said the impasse might result in a mini-cabinet reshuffle by Zikalala, who is said to be looking at moving Mshengu to transport and appointing legislature speaker Nontembeko Boyce, as education MEC as a means of filling the vacancy without sparking a revolt by any of the factions. 

During a debate in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature this week, Zikalala said that an appointment would be made, but that work was being done in the portfolio by Mshengu.

ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Nhlakanipho Ntombela referred the M&G to the premier’s office for comment.

Lennox Mabaso, the spokesperson for Zikalala, said the premier would decide how to fill the portfolio after the necessary consultative processes were concluded.

Mabaso said while Zikalala “appreciates the issues raised and is fully cognisant of them”, there was “no vacuum” as Mshengu was attending to the issues and duties of both portfolios.

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