ANC in eye of storm over step-aside rule as Gumede returns to action

Former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede’s return to the ANC while still facing corruption charges has caused division in the limping governing party ahead of its make-or-break 2024 general election.

Luthuli House’s U-turn in Gumede’s case raised eyebrows in Limpopo, with members of the provincial executive committee (PEC) describing her mysterious exemption from the controversial step-aside rule as a sign of double standards.

Sunday World learned that at the next Limpopo ANC PEC meeting, scheduled for mid-March, the camp of provincial heavyweight Danny Msiza, will launch a fresh bid to reverse the decision to force him to step aside from party duties pending the conclusion of his VBS Mutual Bank-related fraud charges.

Msiza, who is popular in many party structures in the province, has been on ice for more than six years since 2018, despite repeated pleas from the provincial leadership to Luthuli House for a special dispensation in his case.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party made advances to Msiza to bring him aboard, but he was not immediately keen, according to those in his camp. “For now, he remains within the ANC,” the person said.

Those sympathetic to Msiza say he suffered prejudice throughout the ordeal, and at one point they believed the step-aside rule was continually tweaked to scupper his political ambitions.

Msiza and current ANC Limpopo deputy chairperson Florence Radzilani were pushed aside “based on mere allegations” after their names were mentioned in the partially set aside VBS report of lawyer Terry Motau.

“The decision was taken without due process, and Msiza should have been called before the ANC integrity committee to give his version. Instead, his stepping aside was announced in a media statement,” said an ally. “Even after he successfully challenged the Motau report in court, there was reluctance to bring him back until a lot of pressure was applied to the ANC national executive committee.”

But the lifting of that suspension in 2020 only lasted for a few months, during which time the ANC introduced new guidelines that only criminally charged members of the party should step aside, and subsequently, the prosecuting authority laid charges against Msiza.

However, in 2022, the ANC in Mpumalanga elected Mandla Msibi, who was then accused of murder, as its treasurer.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC in eThekwini also elected Gumede as regional chairperson.

But three weeks before the ANC in Limpopo hosted its provincial conference, with Msiza in the running, Luthuli House called a special national executive committee meeting that led to a decision barring him from contesting the party elections.

As it was in 2017 when the ANC first pondered how to arrest corruption among its ranks, different schools of thought still exist almost seven years later.

Even party secretary-generalFikile Mbalula protested last week that the guidelines for the rule’s application remain instructive. “There are step-aside guidelines. None of these has been revoked,” was all Mbalula could say when asked to explain why the ANC no longer had an issue to be publicly associated with Gumede, who faces criminal charges with 21 co-accused on fraud and corruption charges related to allegedly inflated contracts of R320-million.

It is understood the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal wants to ride on Gumede’s popularity with grassroots communities in the province, where the party appears to be on the cusp of ceding political power to the opposition.

This year’s elections also see Zuma, a local favourite for years, campaigning for the newly formed MK Party.

Gumede is seen as one of the ANC’s antidotes to Zuma’s onslaught and the MK Party’s momentum. But hardliners like Snuki Zikalala, the ANC Veterans League president, would have none of it. Instead, Zikalala wants a review of the decision to have Gumede participate in the ANC’s election campaign trail.

Zikalala told Sunday World last week that Gumede’s return to public life as one of the chief campaigners for the party in KwaZulu-Natal undermined the credibility of the step-aside rule and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s overall renewal agenda.

 He said that Ramaphosa was firm during the State of the Nation address in parliament last week that state capture and those involved must be dealt with. “This cannot be allowed. You cannot have one rule for others and no rules for others. Our KwaZulu-Natal people argue that she is popular. But she is popular with the people she bought.”

Zikalala said the KwaZulu-Natal leadership was ill-advised because Gumede was supposed to step aside until she cleared her name.

“The rule of stepping aside cannot be violated. It must apply to everyone who is found wanting and faces criminal charges.”

But Gumede told the media during one of her campaign activities that all structures of the ANC, from her region in eThekwini to the province and Luthuli House, were in agreement, as far back as last year, that her services were crucial.

“They sent a message that I must come back and work, so it is not something new… It is not about elections,” she told a television news channel earlier this month.

Another ANC leader, who did not want to be named, said the step aside rule, which was meant to renew the ANC, achieved the opposite. “It is widely reported that our electoral support will drop to below 50%. If this rule worked, it would have increased significantly.”

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