The battle between rival factions of the ANC was laid bare at the weekend, with Zuma gaining the upper hand over his presidential successor in KZN.
Jacob Zuma is an immovable object standing dead centre in front of President Cyril Ramaphosa's "new dawn" — at least in KwaZulu-Natal, anyway.
It has become clear since Friday that Zuma has no intention of letting go his vice grip on some parts of the ANC — the battle between his loyalists and those aligned to party and state president Cyril Ramaphosa was laid bare in arguably one of the most blatant shows of factionalism since Zuma was forced from Luthuli House.
While Ramaphosa tears down Zuma's last outposts in North West and in Cabinet, the former president is sticking to his guns in his home province — his last fortress of support in the ANC. Its walls will not be breached without a fight. And a fight is brewing.
Months before the ANC's national conference, Zuma's staunchest allies in the province were stripped of their powers, when the High Court in Pietermaritzburg declared the party's provincial executive's 2015 election illegal and void. It was the first time Ramaphosa's loyalists dealt a significant blow to Zuma.
When the branches nominated their preferred presidential candidate months later, Zuma — and his chosen successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — were still favourites among the ANC in KZN, with 454 branch nominations to Ramaphosa's 191.
A month after Ramaphosa won the ANC election, the party's highest decision-making body moved to disband its KZN executive — the second blow to Zuma's empire. But Msholozi did not wave a white flag.
Instead, his supporters pushed for a provincial elective conference, perhaps knowing their support from branches would ensure a mop-up through the ranks. An executive beholden to Zuma would ensure the largest ANC voting bloc in the country remains in his grasp.
The elective conference, which would have seen eight of the 11 regions vote for a new provincial leadership, was expected to take place at the University of Zululand near Empangeni between Friday and Sunday; but an 11th-hour court application brought by leaders from three ANC regions — thought to be aligned to President Cyril Ramaphosa — ground the process to a halt.
The court interdicted the conference from proceeding, sparking the ire of the Zuma camp. They went on the offensive.
Late on Friday evening, when the conference finally sat, Mike Mabuyakhulu — who leads the interim provincial task team with Sihle Zikalala and was considered his rival for the throne from the Ramaphosa camp — was not allowed to speak. He was drowned out by infuriated Zuma loyalists in the crowd of delegates, who were singing "Wenzeni uZuma" and banging on tables.
When ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe took over to deliver the conference's opening address, the meeting again dissolved into chaos. Mantashe is seen by many as a Ramaphosa loyalist, and the delegates would not let him make his speech. He was interrupted repeatedly by pro-Zuma songs and drumming on the steel tables. He later described the meeting as "factional".
The ANC's national leaders had no choice but to shut down the entire conference.
But why did the Ramaphosa group interdict the conference at the last minute? Sunday Times reported it may have had something to do with Zuma.
— 👑uNdlunkulu (@uNdlunkulu_Xoli) June 9, 2018
Ramaphosa had met with ANC leaders in KZN weeks ago, and put a unity deal on the table in which Zikalala would lead the party in the province, but his second-in-charge would be from the opposing faction — in the hope this would bring stability.
But Zuma reportedly instructed that his supporters withdraw from the deal, forcing Ramaphosa to put a stop to the entire conference.
As the battle between both factions continue, it is becoming more clear that Ramaphosa will not simply be able to swoop in on KZN. Zuma is still too powerful on the ground, able to use his bloc of supporters against the instructions of the party's national leadership.
The weekend's events made it clear that Zuma remains a dominating force in KZN.
And in a province beset by political killings, a drawn-out battle may prove fatal for some in more than a political sense.