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Minister’s wife joins race to lead influential ANC KZN region

By Sihle Mavuso | IOL |

As jostling for power in key ANC regions in KwaZulu-Natal heats up before the national conference in December, the wife of the minister of Water and Sanitation, Senzo Mchunu, has joined the race to be the next chairperson of the Musa Dladla (King Cetshwayo district) region.

Thembeka Mchunu is leading a slate that includes Tholi Gwala as her deputy chairperson and Lindo Phungula (the recently dethroned district mayor of King Cetshwayo) as regional treasurer.

In the outgoing regional leadership, Mchunu (Thembeka) is the deputy regional chairperson under the chairmanship of Mdu Mhlongo, the recently deposed mayor of Umhlathuze (Richards Bay-Empangeni).

Of note, in 2018 Mhlongo and Mchunu teamed up with Gwala (who is the current regional secretary) to replace the then regional leadership of the late Nonhle Mkhulisi, which was seen to be close to the NDZ/RET faction of the ANC.

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Three years later, the slate has split into two as Mhlongo is now leading a competing slate that is set to take on Mchunu’s slate when the region convenes next month to elect regional leaders for the next three years.

Mhlongo’s slate includes former ANC youth leaders like Nathi Xulu, who is gunning for the position of regional secretary.

According to insiders in the region, the balance of forces between the slates is not clear. However, some believe that the Mchunu slate stands a better chance as it has Gwala, who as the outgoing regional secretary has intimate knowledge of the voting blocks.

One insider claimed that Mchunu’s slate had not been clear on who it would support at the provincial level, but it was clear that at the national level it would back ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa to take a second term as party leader.

“It’s an open secret that minister Senzo Mchunu is a close ally of Ramaphosa. They were running mates in 2017 at Nasrec where Mchunu wanted to be the secretary-general of the movement. So the slate of his wife is clear that it is backing the CR22 faction. In fact, it will be a major boost for Senzo and Ramaphosa to get the region as it is the third biggest in KwaZulu-Natal. It will give them much-needed voting numbers,” said one party member sympathetic to the slate.

Mchunu (Thembeka) did not respond when asked by Independent Media to confirm or deny her slate’s link to the CR22 lobby, which is backing Ramaphosa for a second term as party head.

Mhlongo’s slate is allegedly an RET one after it roped in Smanga Mgenge to contest the position of regional treasurer. Mgenge is known for being openly sympathetic to former president Jacob Zuma. On July 4 last year, Mgenge was spotted by Independent Media among the thousands of people who were in Nkandla to show support to Zuma before he surrendered to serve his sentence for contempt of the Constitutional Court.

Mgenge also listened to Zuma address the crowd outside his home, where he thanked them for their support.

“Mhlongo’s slate is the strongest and it will emerge victorious. It has got candidates who are popular in the branches. One of the leaders is Nathi Xulu (known as Madzanga in regional ANC circles). I can also tell you that the Mhlongo slate is pro-RET, and Mhlongo himself is an RET member,” said one of the lobbyists of the faction in the region.

When asked about his slate and its reported association, Mhlongo said: “My understanding of the process is that members of the ANC excercising their rights at duly constituted meetings of the ANC have nominated a number of comrades to serve in the ANC REC (regional executive committee).

“My name happens to be nominated for the position of chairpersons in most branches that have sat, that is as far as it goes. I am a member of the ANC and as such will be guided by what conference through branches decides.”

The region was expected to convene in Richards Bay on the weekend of February 4 to 6 this year. However, the ANC’s provincial spokesperson, Nhlakanipho Ntombela, said they were still waiting for the official nod from Luthuli House.

“We are still waiting for a verification report from the HQ, and their branches had not met the minimum 70% threshold to convene a conference. They were short of not less than 20 branches as of last week,” Ntombela said.