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It was supposed to have been a major show of unity by the ANC’s top six leaders, but the public display soon degenerated into a discussion of cracks within the ruling party.
The unprecedented line-up at Luthuli House in central Joburg on Tuesday was sparked by ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s no-holds-barred attack on president Jacob Zuma – he accused him of dictatorship, closing the space for democratic discourse and “traumatising” young people in the party.
While the ANC normally sends its secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, or its spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, to handle press conferences, the party took the extraordinary step of parading its president, Zuma, deputy Kgalema Motlanthe, treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, Mantashe and his deputy Thandi Modise to make the point that the ANC is united.
In the midst of serious allegations against Motlanthe and Phosa, who are considered to be supporters of Malema, Mantashe chose to defend only Motlanthe for having reprimanded ANC members who attended the ANC centenary rally in Tzaneen, Limpopo, wearing T-shirts bearing his name and face.
The T-shirts also had “Kgalema for president” emblazoned on them.
On Tuesday, Phosa was left to defend himself following accusations that he had not cautioned Malema against accusing Zuma of being a dictator during a youth league rally at Wits University on Friday.
Interestingly, Zuma was intermittently accused of not cautioning Malema when he publicly disrespected former president Thabo Mbeki before Zuma became president.
The MK Military Veterans made the accusation against Phosa during an earlier media briefing, also at Luthuli House.
In his response on Tuesday, Phosa said his comments had not been captured. “I did mention that we do not appreciate it when leaders squabble in public. I said we shall not involve (ourselves) in a public spat.”
said: “We have observed in recent times that some individuals within the ANC have continuously utilised the platforms of our respected centenary celebrations to sow divisions and discord within the organisation.
“National officials of the ANC are invited to address centenary celebrations organised by the ANCYL and find themselves in compromising situations of being implicated in statements where ANC leadership is denigrated and insulted. This too must stop.”
Zuma avoided most of the questions relating to the youth league’s call for corruption charges to be reopened against him. He said the matter was sub judice.
Also, he has vowed not to apologise to the league for his comments that Malema must accept his expulsion from the ANC.
Zuma made the comments on Tuesday after he was asked why he had pre-empted the decision of the ANC national disciplinary committee of appeals (NDCA), due on Thursday next week.
The comments followed a New Age-SABC broadcast during which Zuma said the entire youth league leadership must respect the national disciplinary committee’s decision to expel Malema.
During the same broadcast, he also urged the league to elect a new president and to continue with its political programmes.
“Why should I regret making such statements? I was asked a question and I answered it. They (ANCYL) would have to know what to do after the final verdict,” Zuma replied.
He also said he had not met Malema in a meeting alone, but confirmed they do meet at ANC national executive committee and national working committee meetings.
Reacting to Malema’s remarks, Mantashe said: “It is an insult directed to us. It means we can’t think, we are just waiting for directives from the dictator.
“It also means we are dwarfs, rubber-stamping and praise singers. We are not a leadership of dwarfs. It is an allegation and insult to many of us.
“Even if Jacob Zuma wanted to be a dictator – not in the ANC. He stood no chance.”
Mantashe did not indicate if the party would bring fresh charges of misconduct against Malema for his latest comments.
However, the ANC has accused the youth league’s head of communication, Floyd Shivambu, of committing another organisational transgression for his comments on radio that Zuma would not be re-elected president of the ANC at the Mangaung conference in December.
Mantashe said: “It is a serious transgression and a reckless statement on his part to tell it like that.”
On Tueday, there were also renewed tensions between the MK military veterans and the youth league after the veterans said the ANC ought to fire Malema now.
Youth league secretary-general Sindiso Magaqa said the veterans made the call only to impress their girlfriends or to appear on TV.