KwaZulu-Natal treasury MEC, Nomusa Dube-Ncube is the front-runner in the race to replace Premier Sihle Zikalala who resigned from his top government position on Friday.

Zikalala, who during last month’s ANC provincial conference was replaced as party provincial chairperson by KZN Legislature senior MPL, Siboniso Duma, has become unpopular within the province.

Some ANC members in the province have accused Zikalala of colluding with President Cyril Ramaphosa to undermine former president Jacob Zuma. However, in his resignation speech on Friday, Zikalala made it clear that he was not pushed out by the newly- elected provincial leaders.

Zikalala, who dismissed the accusations against him as false, said it was necessary for him to work with Ramaphosa given that he was the leader of the ANC. “It’s the tradition of the ANC that members must always work with the party’s elected leadership,” he said.

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While the ANC Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) has recommended three candidates: Dube-Ncube and ANC MPLs Amanda Bani and Mbali Fraser to the party’s national top brass which includes Ramaphosa, the treasury MEC is the strongest candidate. Unlike Bani and Fraser — both of who have never served as MECs — Dube Ncube, who served as Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC and economic development MEC, has a wealth of experience in government.

Despite her bid to be elected as ANC provincial chairperson at last month’s provincial government having been unsuccessful, Dube-Ncube however still made it into the influential PEC. Zikalala said the campaign against him had made it difficult for him to focus on his duties as premier. “As ANC members we should always avoid becoming the centre of the problem…we should not be a burden to the ANC,” he said.

There had been an expectation that Zikalala will stay on as premier, at least until the ANC national conference scheduled for December. However, Zikalala said the political climate no longer allowed him to continue as premier. The anti-Zikalala campaign which was led by the ANC Taliban faction which swept Duma to power, had continued after the conference, with party members aligned to the faction calling for him to be removed as premier.

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Zikalala cited the improvement in the provincial government departments’ audit outcomes and the launch of programmes to support businesses owned by young people as some of his administration’s successes. He said his decision to resign was motivated by the need to create space for the new ANC provincial leadership.

Zikalala wished the incoming Premier well. Newly-elected ANC provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo described Zikalala’s departure as “painful”.

The ANC accepted Comrade Zikalala resignation with pain and difficulty as he was still doing a great job in the province since he took over. We are grateful for the job he has done for the people of this province and we appreciate that he made a conscious decision not to leave office hastily.

“Comrade Zikalala’s tenure has come with a lot of good in the province, including a number of provincial government departments receiving unqualified audit outcomes for the first time,” he said.

Xolani Dube, a political analyst at the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, cited the tendency of some within the ANC to “personalise” issues as a major factor which led to Zikalala’s departure. “During the build-up to the ANC provincial conference there was a sustained campaign against Zikalala.

There was a lot of hatred and anger directed at him. Even after the conference, the campaign against him continued

A former ANC provincial secretary, Zikalala cut his political teeth in the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). One of the highlights of Zikalala’s political journey was when he nominated Zuma as an ANC presidential candidate during the 2007 ANC national conference where Zuma defeated then President Thabo Mbeki to become the new party leader.

This article was originally published on The Witness.

By editor