Port Elizabeth – ANC Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa openly defied a directive from national leadership hours before his election as regional chairperson.
The other leaders elected with him in the early hours of Sunday morning included ANC regional deputy Phumzile Tshuni, secretary Themba Xathula, deputy secretary Desiree Davids, and treasurer Mbulelo Gidane.
Nelson Mandela Bay had been without a proper regional structure after it was disbanded by President Jacob Zuma about three years ago, following years of infighting and factionalism.
Lungisa’s candidature for the top job was mired in controversy after the ANC wrote to its provincial secretaries and party structures on Wednesday, reminding them that party constitution prohibited comrades serving in higher structures to contest positions in lower structures.
Lungisa is a member of the Eastern Cape ANC provincial executive committee (PEC). ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe wrote that any attempt to resign from the PEC in the run-up to regional conferences must not be allowed and characterised it as "opportunistic".
Lungisa's response was that Mantashe’s strongly-worded letter had no basis in the ANC constitution, policy or practice.
Lungisa, who is both former ANC Youth League deputy president and chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency, wrote that the ANC rule only prohibited members "from serving in two structures at the same time".
“It does not prohibit a member from resigning from a higher structure when elected in a lower structure. The rule also does not prohibit a member from contesting any position in any structure in the ANC. Given the fact that I am not prohibited by any practice, policy, or rule in the ANC from contesting, I shall be contesting any position I am nominated to. If I do get elected, it is my intention – in line with ANC policy and rules – to resign from the PEC."
However, Independent Media understands that Lungisa later agreed to pull out of the race after apparently receiving a call from Mantashe, ‘pleading’ with him to withdraw from the race.
Lungisa, who had earlier boasted to journalists that he had never lost an elective conference in his political career, was believed to have yielded to the calls because he did not want to put his ambitions before the party: “I have to step down so that the organisation can rise.”
Independent Media further understands that Mantashe apparently turned down a deal that would have seen him become former AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s running mate in her campaign to succeed President Jacob Zuma as ANC leader in December, and possibly the country in 2019. That’s if he stopped “blocking” Lungisa’s bid to become regional chairperson.
Lungisa is viewed as being part of a grouping within the ANC that wants Dlamini-Zuma to take over from Zuma instead of his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.
Speaking to Independent Media on Saturday, Mantashe denied calling Lungisa, saying he had merely responded to his letter.
“This has nothing to with Nkosazana or the mystery of the deputy presidency imagined campaign. I did not plead with (him), why should we plead on organisational matters?”
He said ANC leaders including Water Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and Deputy Agriculture Minister Bheki Cele, who both serve on the ANC’s national executive committee, had been “stopped” from contesting positions in the party’s lower structures at their respective provinces, due to the ANC constitution.
“So why should we plead? Number two, I have no campaign to be deputy president. If there is such, it’s their campaign,” said Mantashe.
ANC deputy provincial chairperson Sakhumzi Somyo said the issue of Lungisa’s candidature was explained thoroughly at the conference, where 138 delegates voted.
He said Mantashe’s letter was “explained” to them together with the ANC constitution on the matter.