Court Ruling May Sway Leadership Fight in South Africa's ANC

(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s High Court will rule Tuesday whether to overturn the election of African National Congress leaders allied to President Jacob Zuma in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, a decision that could sway the outcome of the race to become leader of the party and the nation.

With the biggest ANC membership of the nine provinces, the party’s KwaZulu-Natal’s leadership will wield great influence over its internal elections due to be held in December. The party has split into two loose camps in the province, one led by regional chairman Sihle Zikalala and another by Senzo Mchunu, who Zikalala ousted in a 2015 vote that his backers say was flawed.

Zikalala’s camp wants Zuma to be succeeded by his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, while the Mchunu faction backs Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. The court in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal’s capital, will make its ruling on Tuesday, Lilla Meyer, secretary to presiding Judge Piet Koen, said by phone.

“If the leadership changes from one faction to another, it can have an effect on the balance of power within the province,” said Dirk Kotze, a political science professor at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. “That would complicate matters for the Zuma camp. What happens at branch level is very much influenced by provincial and regional interventions. Who is in those leadership positions is absolutely decisive.”

Court Ruling May Sway Leadership Fight in South Africa's ANC

Scandals that have shadowed Zuma, 75, during his eight-year presidency have divided the ANC and cost it control of three of the biggest cities, including Pretoria, the capital, and Johannesburg, the economic hub, in municipal elections last year.

Intra-party rivalries run especially deep in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province, where the Institute for Security Studies has recorded about 100 political killings since 2013. Municipal councilors Kwazukwakhe Mkhize, Sifiso Mkhize, Sibusiso Sithole and Thandazile Phoswa are among those who’ve been gunned down this year.

‘Toxic Environment’

“It’s a toxic environment, it’s tense and highly divisive, and this paralysis is exploited by everybody and anybody on the lookout to advance their agendas or enrich themselves,” Babu Baijoo, a veteran ANC member and former speaker of the municipality in Pietermaritzburg, said by phone. The court judgment “won’t heal those divisions. They run deep,” he said. “If anything, it will amplify them.”

Dlamini-Zuma, 68, has echoed Zuma’s calls for “radical economic transformation” to address racially based income disparities that date back to apartheid rule, while Ramaphosa, 64, has emphasized the need to stamp out corruption and foster inclusive economic growth. Both leaders have called for unity within the 105-year-old ANC, which has ruled Africa’s most industrialized economy since the end of white minority rule in 1994.

Benedict Dube, a political analyst at the Xubera Institute for Research and Development in the eastern city of Durban, doesn’t see the court ruling influencing which delegates will attend the Dec. 16-20 conference, where the ANC will elect its next leader and its probable presidential candidate in 2019 elections.

“If the court case goes against Sihle Zikalala, that won’t affect the government positions he and his crew hold,” Dube said by phone. “They will still have patronage to dispense to people who will go to the conference. This issue is about survival. People will say: ‘I can’t risk my livelihood by going with Cyril.”’