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EXCLUSIVE: KZN sheds its political inertia

Home Business Management Finance & Investment EXCLUSIVE: KZN sheds its political inertia

By Paddy Harper

NEGOTIATIONS between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance
(DA) over the tight details of the composition of the Government of National Unity (GNU) are finally concluded, ending weeks of political uncertainty.

However, in KwaZulu-Natal, a swift resolution in talks between the two parties and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the National Freedom Party (NFP) means a Government of Provincial Unity (GPU) is already at work.

The province was the most heavily impacted by the emergence of the breakaway Umkhonto we Sizwe Party (MKP) led by former president Jacob Zuma, which took 45% of the KwaZulu-Natal vote.

This gave the MKP 37 of the 80 seats in the KZN legislature – a massive upset, but short of the 41 it needed to govern, despite it being the largest party in the province.

While there were concerns that its challenge to the outcome of the elections – and its failure to lead a government in KwaZulu-Natal – might result in a repeat of the July 2021 riots in the province, the MKP appears to have reluctantly accepted the status quo.

The MKP secured the backing of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) for its premier candidate, Inkosi Phatesizwe Chiliza, but it was unable to secure the support of the NFP, whose single seat is the kingmaker in the provincial parliament.

While it has threatened to challenge the outcome in court, the MKPs provincial MPs have participated in the work of the legislature, including the swearing in of KZN’s new premier, Thami Ntuli and their induction programme as first-time legislators.

Its members of the national assembly were sworn in last week, while the party held a three-day workshop with its public representatives at Bela Bela in Limpopo over the weekend to prepare for their work in parliament and the legislatures.

These are all indications that the party will engage in parliamentary process while fighting the electoral outcomes in court – and focus on trying to take control of municipalities in the 2026 local government elections.

Ntuli was elected by a single-seat majority and was able to constitute a four-party provincial government, with cabinet seats allocated to participants dependent on their share of the vote.

The IFP holds four provincial cabinet seats, the ANC three, the DA two and the NFP one.

Creating a stable environment

The ability of Ntuli’s administration to govern – and to create a stable environment in which to do business – will depend on his ability to hold together the four parties at provincial level after getting over the initial hurdles.

The larger parties may, ironically, present Ntuli with less of a problem than dealing with the tensions between the IFP and the NFP at local government level, which have already threatened to impact on his new government.

The IFP refused to back NFP president Ivan Barnes as mayor of the Zululand District last week and instead backed its own councillor, Michael Khumalo, as mayor this week, and went public about the issue.

Their complaint has now been referred to the coalition government’s dispute resolution mechanism, but is an indication for the need for the provincial deal to be replicated at local level to achieve real stability in the province.

Premier Ntuli and his cabinet met with King MisuZulu kaZwelithini in Ulundi last week and secured his endorsement, another significant step in building stability in the post-election phase.

Ntuli also made it clear that while the IFP had campaigned for a move of the legislature and government headquarters to Ulundi, this was no longer on the agenda and would not take place.

This will address concerns of the Midlands business community – and civil servants – who had been uneasy over the financial and other implications of moving the capital from Pietermaritzburg.

Ntuli said at a media briefing on Friday that building and maintaining a coalition was “a process and not an event” and that his focus would be on ensuring that it held together for the five years ahead.

Making moves

On a practical level, the new government has already taken small but significant steps that indicate its intentions for the coming term.

Ntuli has moved the Public Safety portfolio to fall under the premier’s office, a move he hopes will assist in developing a coordinated response to the province’s high crime levels.
The new Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs MEC, Musa Zondi has merged the KZN Liquor Authority and the KZN Gaming and Betting Board into a single entity, the KZN Economic Regulatory Authority.

Zondi has also merged the province’s film and tourism authorities into a single entity, the KZN Tourism and Film Authority and has made leadership changes at the KZN Growth Fund Agency, aimed at financing private sector job creation projects.

Zondi said in an interview that their focus was on creating a stable environment in which the private sector could create jobs; and to improve the efficiency of licensing authorities and cut back on wastage.

“Our main role as the government of provincial unity is to create an environment under which the business community can create jobs and to foster a healthy working partnership between government and business and other sectors,’ Zondi said.

Zondi said that the province had prospered under a series of coalition governments between 1994 and 2004 – under more testing circumstances than those of today – and that this experience would be of assistance in dealing with the challenges the unity government faced in the next five years.

Finance MEC Francois Rodgers has already closed luxurious ministerial offices in Durban, which are only used for occasional meetings – saving more than R1 million a year in rentals and making it clear how the department would approach the public purse going forward.
His Public Works counterpart, Martin Meyer, has promised to crack down on the “construction mafia” in the province as part of clearing infrastructure backlogs – and trying to confront criminality in the industry.
Ntuli’s administration has also moved quickly to intervene in a number of struggling municipalities, including most importantly eThekwini, with the aim of improving financial management and addressing infrastructure backlogs.

Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda has been recalled and is set to be replaced by former Agriculture MEC Cyril Xaba, while an intervention team headed by former city manager Mike Sutcliffe and former director general in the presidency Cassius Lubisi has been put in place.
Administrators have been replaced in a number of rural municipalities which had been subject to intervention over their failure to deliver services and make use of their infrastructure budgets.

Paddy Harper is a Durban-based political journalist, currently with the Mail & Guardian., who has been covering KwaZulu-Natal for the past 40 years.

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