History Is Against The ANC In KZN

History has a habit of repeating itself. The names and dates change but themes are recurrent. Natal in South African history has often tended to be out of step with the rest of the country. This is again apparent with the controversy surrounding President Jacob Zuma.

In 1909 Natal was the only South African colony to hold a referendum on whether or not to join the Union of South Africa. Although the result was decisive, up until the last week of the campaign the referendum outcome was in doubt with many colonists wary of the prospects of Afrikaner domination.

In 1926-1927 agitation in Natal reached fever-pitch over Prime Minister JBM Hertzog’s proposed introduction of a new flag in place of the British Union Jack. Whilst the idea that South Africa should have its own flag in keeping with its new nationhood was a reasonable one, it provoked frenzied opposition in Natal. As historian Paul Thompson has stated, “probably no other issue set so many Britons against Afrikaners in the history of the Union.”

Huge protest meetings were held across the province at which Empire loyalists affirmed their “unceasing devotion to the Union Jack.” The emotional political climate brought forth debate on the idea of secession and separation from the Union. The uproar led Hertzog to brand the province as “a hotbed of jingoism.”  The flag controversy ended in October 1927 when it was revealed that the new Union flag incorporated the Union Jack.

1960 saw a resurgence of Last British Outpost emotions in Natal following Dr Verwoerd’s proposal of a referendum to determine whether South Africa should embrace republic status. Once again a severe polarization of opinions occurred. But in Natal anti-republic passions took on a degree of zeal that branded republicanism as heresy.

Heading the fight in the province was Natal United Party leader Douglas Mitchell. He addressed rallies of 40,000 in Durban and 25,000 in Pietermaritzburg. His punch line was: “I am not prepared to accept a decision for South Africa as far as Natal is concerned.” To frenzied applause, he told Verwoerd to “go and be damned.”

In the referendum held on October 5, 1960, Natal was the only province to reject the republic, recording 135,598 votes against to 42,299 in favour. But overall by a margin of 74,580 out of 1,626,336 votes cast, the republican vote triumphed. Mitchell found himself in a bind: his feisty rhetoric had created expectations for Natal to break away from South Africa. Somewhat desperately he had confidential meetings with Verwoerd and the British High Commissioner, Sir John Maud, on the possibility of Natal becoming a separate state. But Mitchell’s efforts proved futile and with docility Natal accepted the republic.

An enduring feature of Natal’s difference from the other three provinces was its resolute defence of the provincial council system and the limited autonomy it afforded. In all the years that the country was dominated by the National Party government, the Natal provincial council was the only one which bucked the trend and was governed by the South African Party and its successors, the United Party and the New Republic Party. In 1981, in what turned out to be the last provincial council elections of the pre-1994 order, Natal’s white voters rallied behind the slogan “Natal stay free – vote NRP.” However, in 1986, the NP government scrapped the provincial system and replaced it with an unelected bureaucracy.

In the 1980s although violence was widespread, KZN was the only province convulsed by a virtual civil war between ANC and IFP supporters which claimed some 14,000 lives. So acute were the tensions in the province that the IFP very nearly abstained from the 1994 election.

In 2017 polarisation and severe tensions characterise the political atmosphere in the province, exacerbated this time by a war within the ANC and mounting calls, particularly from outside of KZN, for Jacob Zuma to resign as President. Of course, underpinning the situation is the Zulu tribalism factor and that KZN is Zuma’s home province. Nonetheless, the stakes are high. Political relegation not just within the ANC but along with the loss of power would have manifold costs.

Thus, it would seem, the stance of the ANC in KZN in support of Zuma is in conflict with the cycle of history as it has affected this province. In other words, the KZN ANC will have to accept the opinion of the rest of the country that Zuma resigns as President and see the futility of KZN being the Last Outpost for Zuma diehards.

Sent into The Daily News and published, 2 August 2017.

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