There was very little sign that the song was able to achieve its purpose of cheering up the sombre and disjointed delegates, many of whom were still showing signs of suffering the effects of a heavy defeat at the Nasrec conference proper in December 2022.
Ahead of that watershed gathering, the KZN ANC was the focal point of the campaign to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa and replace him with a youth-focused and Radical Economic Transformation-oriented leadership collective headed by former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Since the conference, the KZN ANC provincial leadership has come forward, accepted defeat and seemingly embraced the new leadership in which Ramaphosa retained his position and his allies dominated both the Top Seven and the 80-plus National Executive Committee (NEC).
In KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC administration took over only in 2004, a decade after the rest of the country was already in the ANC net. Before that, the ANC’s bitter rivals, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) ruled the roost in the province — running the provincial government and most of the then 62 local municipalities spread over mostly deep rural areas.
Now, ahead of the 2024 polls, for the first time in 20 years, the ANC faces an existential threat — corruption, the lacklustre performance of cadres deployed in government and the re-emergence of the IFP threatens to take its power away in KwaZulu-Natal.
The KZN version of the conference was well attended by senior leaders. Former President Jacob Zuma was there, but did not get the same wild applause and reception he got from some KZN delegates at Nasrec. During the lunch break, Zuma was accompanied by a phalanx of bodyguards and greeted a few comrades outside the venue before he was driven away.
Also at the gathering was Zweli Mkhize, who lost his contest with Ramaphosa. Mdumiseni Ntuli, conceded the battle for ANC Secretary-General to Fikile Mbalula by just more than 600 votes, was also mingling with delegates.
Mkhize, Ntuli, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, Malusi Gigaba, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu and others had been deployed by the ANC NEC to ensure that the Durban version of the conference went smoothly.
While the KZN leadership was diplomatic in its assessment of the ANC leadership results, many ordinary delegates didn’t hide their disappointment at the Nasrec results and the prospects of their party.
Some told Daily Maverick they had been defeated by the betrayal of provinces who lured KZN delegates into voting for their candidates, but then did not reciprocate when it was their turn to support a KZN candidate — read Zweli Mkhize.
“It is clear that they were used and then thrown out,” said Thokozani Mhlongo, a delegate from Moses Mabhida region. “Now we have to live with the outcome of the result.
Another delegate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the party now had an uphill battle before the 2024 national and provincial elections:
“Some people are already saying that now that we have re-elected Ramaphosa, we will see who is going to vote for the ANC. We are used to fighting elections, but mostly we knew that the ANC will sail through, come what may. These 2024 elections will be the hardest we have ever faced.”
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The delegate said there had already been rumblings after the party performed dismally in many municipalities in the 2021 local government elections, which resulted in the party losing many crucial municipalities and long-standing cadres losing positions in those municipalities.
KZN ANC delegates are expected to make inputs into many policies and amendments to ANC policies and resolutions, particularly the step-aside and radical economic transformation-related policies, but the oomph and verve that characterised their pre-Nasrec posture was sadly lacking.
It remains to be seen whether the ANC in KZN will be able to pick up the pieces, dust itself off and face the upcoming 2024 electoral contest with some measure of renewed confidence. DM
Update: Proceedings wrapped up at 3am