Road to ANC Gauteng 2017: Zweli Mkhize in an uphill run for the Number 2 spot
This is our latest installment of a growing volume of analyses of various figures who appear to be in the running for top positions at the ANC’s elective conference in December. We have looked at Cyril Ramaphosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, and Matthews Phosa so far. Today we focus on Zweli Mkhize. We will continue in this vein to include others such as Jeff Radebe, Baleka Mbete, Gwede Mantashe, and Ace Magashule.
You will recall on the assessment of Sisulu I proved emphatic to say though there are at least nine candidates in the race for high office in the ANC, not all are true contenders for the number one spot. Mkhize, like Sisulu and even Mantashe, are not really contending for the number one spot, they are better understood as being in a race with each other for the number two spot.
Who is Zweli Mhize?
Zweli Mkhize is a 61-year-old medical practitioner who hails from Willowfontein, Pietermaritzburg. He left for exile to Swaziland and ultimately settled in Zimbabwe where he had medical practices. Mkhize, following stints as attached to the Health Secretariat of the ANC, became the premier of Kwa Zulu Natal in 2009. He held this position in dualness of power after his 2012 election to the office of Treasurer General, that is according to the ANC Constitution a full-time position. He held on two both positions from December 2012 until August 2013, when he had to let go of the Premiership of KZN.
Tactics of his campaign
- Mkhize’s campaign is not an overt one but a real one, in particular as directed from his original base which is the geographic space of KwaZulu-Natal. His theme is not clear, and appears muddled by the subject of leadership crises, yet he is not as bold as a Matthews Phosa who goes for the jugular.
- KwaZulu-Natal has always been his base and therefore we are introduced to him as a politician from that base. There are those who argue he held onto both positions because he wanted to ensure he still had control over the KZN province as his regional base.
KZN a history of hegemony
- Before 2012 Mangaung, Mkhize formed part of the overarching hegemonic base of KwaZulu-Natal leadership. It can be argued he directly benefited from that hegemony of KZN ANC role players in which Jacob Zuma was an important cog. Some claim he was a Zuma protégé, and that Zuma in a sense produced him and was responsible for his provincial and ultimate national meteoritic rise to the high office of ANC Treasurer General.
- In 2017 that hegemony is a questionable reality. It appears he has broken away from the man that made him in a move aimed at his political survival.
- A part of his breakaway, as is claimed from that hegemonic base of KZN, was made evident in the act of having his successor – the independent and differently calibrated non-business aligned Senzo Mchunu – removed from the office of premier. On the surface level it appeared to be a regrouping of Mkhize’s alliance and flexing of his political muscle, yet we know now that whilst he may have been a voice, he was merely an echo in the room and therefore could never claim this as his victory.
- The KZN cohort after the removal of Mchunu appears more fragile in its unity, thus the base of Mkhize cuts him today as more of a Lone Ranger.
Corruption claims leveled against Mkhize
- Whilst Mkhize is known to have been vocal on maladministration and corruption as practices that warrant being red-carded, he himself did not escape accusations in association with the Intaka scandal. The case never resulted in any findings against Mkhize, but the same Gaston Savoi was fingered in the Northern Cape in a case that found against the ANC’s Northern Cape provincial leader who was also MEC of economic affairs, John Block.
What works for him?
- Mkhize is not a loudmouth ANC politician; he tends to do his thing quietly and therefore he is not easily accused at national level for campaigning or jostling. Yet on the home front where he is known better, he is more readily blamed for division depending on whom you engage.
- Mkhize as Treasurer General has unlike his predecessor not attempted to be a new broom, and splurging information on the organisational finance and treasury as questionable entity. We are not sure how the provincial treasuries look under his tutelage, since it remains a provincial competency.
- He also has continued in defence of Chancellor House the undeniable proverbial literal wet diapers of the ANC. He has threatened to close Chancellor House, yet the action of such is yet to be seen.
- We have not seen much tension between himself and the Secretary General that would present a hostile bid for the second spot of top office.
- He has also not been too vocal, at least on public platforms, in attack or rebuke of provincial leaderships, I guess he steered clear from that landmine reality of ANC leadership battles and constituencies yet he is active in such often with a non-presence.
What does not work for him?
- Mkhize cannot outrightly claim the province that made him in ANC setting.
- His public condemnation of the cabinet reshuffle has not made him a friend of the Zuma constituency, regardless how defined.
- He must contend with the fact that the presence of woman candidacy for either number one and two spots is no more a remote claim or a mirage but an imminent and palpable reality. If 2017 will deliver anything, it promises us a woman candidacy for number one spot and woman candidates for a number two spot. I have already alluded to a Lindiwe Sisulu lifting half a hand in a previous installment. Hence, besides Dlamini-Zuma he has to engage the reality of a female presence for the first time in the ANC history of politics.
- He at another level has to challenge the Secretary General who is also lobbied by both leading campaigns. We read in the media how some of the NDZ candidacy made overtures to the serving SG who as recent as last Saturday said he has had enough of being SG beyond more the current 10th year.
- Mkhize will have to make his choice very carefully. If he sides with NDZ he will have explain how the ANC in leadership would ensemble one province and one tribe in number one and two spots. Some will say that’s not too strange because we at some stage had Mandela and Mbeki before, yet the material conditions and circumstances under a NGU agreement, was markedly different. Therefore in this season this remains a point of due consideration.
- On the other hand he will have to contend with the fact that if he opts for the Ramaphosa ticket, how that will inculcate and accommodate the rightful women’s cause if not sidelined.
- He has to accept that he is not yet endorsed by any of the official ANC structures, immanent in youth league, women’s league, MKVA, or the provinces.
- Mkhize simply lacks charisma, and does not naturally inspire support for his candidacy regardless of what position; he instead cuts an unassuming character, unsure in presence and more of technocrat than the confidant leader.
His possible plan
- He knows as in the case of Sisulu or Mantashe he is not in contention for the number one spot. At best he has his eye on the number two spot, which appears the contested terrain of friends and foes. I say this because the number one spot as we approach December 2017 would be a two horse race and the number two spot may just become the real contest with a number as high as five, if the bandied nine candidates in the race stand.
- He therefore may attempt to influence that particular constituency for the spaces he can walk to further fragmentise them that he may walk away with a slice to aid his bartering with the more serious contenders for number one spot, namely Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma.
- His recent public commentary on the cabinet reshuffle, which also was not original, because his followed Mantashe and Ramaphosa, therefore appeared more a like an echo in attempt of signalling he is not committed to the one who made him politically. With this public comment he had hoped to confirm his candidacy, yet it may backfire on him.
- He may attempt to secure as much support as possible from KZN, and from pockets of the ANC in national description, to give him a base to bargain with either Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa.
What may happen to him in political candidacy?
- His candidacy may end up being compromised, since it is a candidacy that may prove dependent on the failures of others. In a football match often teams play in tournament of competition, but don’t do well enough to qualify by themselves. They therefore need the bad performance of others to make them qualify for the next spot. Mkhize’s campaigning and candidacy registers a plausibility of the above, it’s a campaign that is reliant and dependent on others in bad performance for him to qualify.
In the end, Zweli Mkhize has a merciless Polly Shortts of Comrades to climb and overcome. He has to contest on the one hand against a woman candidacy, and on the other against a very strong Secretary General candidacy for second spot.
He therefore has to navigate a rugged terrain with landmine-riddled fields of distrust from ANC structures, including his own home regional base. He has an uphill battle to convince the wider ANC to trust him. He will have to sell them more than just a wry smile when what is needed is a confidence-inspiring candidacy. He needs to create a presence for himself. This may prove too much to ask of Mkhize in this elective year.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine