South Africa

No backing down as presidential hopeful Mkhize goes for broke

In December 2017, Zweli Mkhize Zweli Mkhize collapsed his campaign for the ANC presidency shortly before nominations for the governing party’s top six positions opened and settled for a seat on the party’s national executive committee (NEC).

Mkhize, then the ANC treasurer general, had failed to get the endorsement of his home province KwaZulu-Natal — which had backed Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the presidency — or that of any of the party’s other structures.

Faced with the reality that his campaign had not gained traction and the so-called unity ticket had failed to sway supporters of the two main factions, Mkhize, who describes himself as a pragmatist, threw in the towel.

This time around Mkhize, despite having had to resign as health minister last August over the Digital Vibes tender scandal, is no longer a rank outsider going into the ANC national conference.

If anything, Mkhize is the most likely of the small throng of would-be ANC presidents to give incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa a run for his money, having secured the backing of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee (PEC).

Despite former president Jacob Zuma’s endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma, it is Mkhize, and Ramaphosa, who have got the nod from the bulk of the branches to date, with Dlamini-Zuma ahead of the rest of the pack which, at this point, includes David Mabuza and Lindiwe Sisulu.

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Thus far, he has focused on behind-the-scenes lobbying at the regional and provincial conferences held in the run-up to the national conference in December and on mobilising support at branch level through addressing branch general meetings and other ANC activities.

This week, Mkhize geared up his campaign, hoping to draw support from branches in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga with a series of media interviews and an offensive against the Special Investigating Unit.

In an interview with Mail & Guardian at a La Lucia boutique hotel in Durban — ironically under curatorship by the Asset Forfeiture Unit until recently — Mkhize said apart from reliance on his 20-plus years of experience in both the ANC and the government, his observation of what he describes as the Ramaphosa faction’s ironfisted hold on the NEC is a sign of the president’s weakness.

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