08/09/2017 06:06 SAST | Updated 08/09/2017 06:06 SAST

Zweli Mkhize: The Dark Horse In A Dirty Political Race

His refusal to play it dirty may be his downfall.

Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize both dream of taking over from President Zuma.
Foto24 via Getty Images
Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize both dream of taking over from President Zuma.

In the political ring of factional battles, two sides –- one belonging to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the other to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa –- are wrestling for control of the ANC. But now, a third top dog is attempting to make a mark.

If nominated for the country's presidential post, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize said he would heed the call –- making his intentions clear to all the ANC's branches.

This comes at a time when Ramaphosa's integrity is being devoured by numerous alleged sex scandals and Dlamini-Zuma is being criticised for failing to detract away or set herself apart from her ex-husband's discourse.

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Mkhize's hat was thrown into the presidential ring when the Alfred Nzo Region in the Eastern Cape raised him as its pick for party president during the region's elective conference in June.

But, Mkhize, the KwaZulu-Natal born politician remained mum, until now, possibly waiting for the most opportune time to declare himself as an alternative to the two frontrunners.

In an intimate media briefing in Sandton on Thursday, Mkhize announced he was ready to lace up his gloves in the presidential fight.

"I have been approached by a number of leaders and branch members and I have said I would be honoured if there was a nomination on my name because I wish to be part of the leadership that builds the movement," he told journalists.

One of the least controversial leaders
To best describe who he is, Mkhize's conduct at the media briefing was a tell-all.

He walked into the room and approached each journalist present (and there were about a dozen), offering a handshake and a pat on the back. He began by apologising for the delay in the timing of the briefing before opening the floor for questions.

And in answering those questions, Mkhize characteristically managed to do what few others have: remain outspoken on critical issues plaguing the country without bringing his beloved party into disrepute or playing to the tune of any particular faction.

And it is this neutrality, coupled with him being one of least controversial members of the ANC's top leadership, which will spearhead his campaign.

That said, his morality, optimism and faith in his party may also be his downfall.

Mkhize has been preaching unity in the ANC, organisational renewal and everything else that the party aspires to be. And by his recent public statements, it certainly seems that Mkhize truly believes the party is capable of such.

The race will be a dirty game
Perhaps he knows it deep down, but Mkhize is underestimating the magnitude of the factional rifts in his party, and the lengths cadres have and will go to have their side triumph.

A prime example is the spate of politically linked killings in KwaZulu-Natal; another is what Ramaphosa is now describing as the use of state intelligence resources to smear his campaign. It is a dirty game, and those who play dirty usually come out on top.

Condemning such will not be enough –- and that is all Mkhize has done.

To seriously contend against Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma, Mkhize will have to step out of his comfort zone and be ruthless in his campaigning. He will have to somehow prove himself to be more than an ideological alternative to a split party, but instead as a leader capable of pulling the ANC out of its woes.

How he plans to do so, while at the same time garnering away support from both the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma camps, and without further splitting the party, is a feat which will be a spectacle to witness.