Can Mkhize cross Vibes hurdle?

Two years ago, presidential hopeful Zweli Mkhize became the face of South Africa’s response to the novel coronavirus as he gained public admiration for his leadership, providing hope amid the suffering and fear that engulfed citizens as the deadly pandemic unleashed a reign of terror on people’s lives.

So spirited was the country’s response to the pandemic that the World Health Organisation heaped praise on how the South African government managed the deadly virus. It also elevated Mkhize’s political ambitions, with his detractors believing he was using Covid-19 to launch his presidential campaign.

A few moments later Mkhize was embroiled in a corruption scandal with allegations that he had influenced the awarding of a R150-million tender to Digital Vibes, a company owned by his close associate. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) also discovered that the funds were never used for their intended purpose but instead used to shower
Mkhize’s relatives and associates with gifts and pay for personal expenses.

The tender was initially aimed at providing communication campaigns for Covid-19 and for the National Health Insurance (NHI).

One would say that Covid-19 was both a blessing and a curse to Mkhize’s political career because it was the same pandemic that elevated his public profile, but it also threatened his political career. Following the scandal, opposition parties wasted no time in calling for his head and he eventually bowed to pressure and voluntarily resigned.

Now Mkhize is back, this time aiming for the highest office in the land as he bids to become ANC president and by virtue, the head of state.

One of his key lobbyists, Ntuthuko “Koloba” Ntshangase, believes the Digital Vibes scandal was used to block Mkhize from ascending to power.

“If they had a solid case and something against comrade Zweli, he would have been charged a long time ago. This was just a campaign to block him from contesting for the ANC’s presidency. But now the branches have spoken, and they want him to lead the ANC,” he told Sunday World.

Despite the emergence of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as another potential candidate to challenge Cyril Ramaphosa at the party’s December elective conference, Ntshangase says Mkhize is their man.

“You would recall that comrade Khabazela was the only chairperson to have propelled the ANC to a decisive victory in KZN, taking the power away from the IFP for the first time.”

The ball is now in the hands of provincial executive committee that will announce which candidates KZN will throw its weight behind for the ANC’s top six positions. Provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo has already said that branches would give them a mandate on who to support.

On the other hand, if Mkhize makes it to the ballot when the elective conference convenes in December, it would be breaking with a long-held tradition where former president Jacob Zuma had called the shots on who gets the nod for the party’s top six. This will also mean that his popularity has somehow waned.

It is believed that Zuma had endorsed Dlamini-Zuma for ANC president, who narrowly lost the contest to Ramaphosa in 2017. While Mkhize had historically been a key Zuma ally, their relationship deteriorated over the years.

With the current situation, KwaZulu-Natal is also likely to face the same humiliation it faced in the 2017 Nasrec conference, failing to get a single official on the party’s top six. As it stands, the province will go to the conference divided between Zuma and Mkhize loyalists.

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