Many of them indicated on Saturday they had snubbed the event to register their unhappiness with the president, whom they argue has destroyed the governing party to pursue personal interests, and had handed the country to the politically-connected Gupta family.
This after Zuma’s cabinet bloodbath a few weeks ago in which the president axed party members who disagreed with him and removed Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, replacing him with Malusi Gigaba, alleged to be a lackey of Zuma’s friends, the Gupta family.
Four of the ANC’s top six – secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, treasurer Zweli Mkhize, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and chairperson Baleka Mbete – were conspicuous by their absence from the bash attended mostly by Zuma backers in the dominant faction of the governing party.
Mantashe’s deputy, Jessie Duarte, was the lone official present at the party, while ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini, Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Collen Maine were among Zuma’s staunch supporters present.
Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini’s attendance and his message that Zuma needed to be strong raised eyebrows after his federation called for the president to go.
Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize were under fire for publicly coming out against the cabinet reshuffle – which was followed by the shock rating downgrade to junk status by Fitch and Standard and Poor’s.
Mkhize was heckled and humiliated by ANCYL members at Struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada’s memorial service in Durban last Sunday.
Several NEC members said they couldn’t attend the bash because they were concerned about its funding and that it had been organised to divert attention from the marches demanding Zuma’s resignation.
The Sunday Independent saw an e-mail inviting all national executive committee (NEC) members to the party at the Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, Soweto.
Yesterday, party officials went to ground as questions on the party’s funding emerged. Mantashe said he was not obliged to attend the party, and declined to comment on its funding. Several other party officials referred questions on the funding to Mokonyane, who they said had organised it and sourced the funding. Mokonyane could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The snub laid bare the deep divisions between members of the ANC’s national working committee (NWC) – dominated by Zuma allies – and those of the NEC.
One NEC member said Zuma’s 75th birthday bash was a gathering of his allies.
“It was an ANC mini-rally in the name of a birthday party. You just had to look at who was there. Where were the brothers and other relatives of the president?
“Many of us knew it was going to be a gathering of JZ’s inner circle to divert attention from the real pressing issues,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Another NEC member said they had deliberately shunned Zuma’s gig. “All of us (NEC) members did get the invites but many of us decided not to attend,” he said.
But an NEC member aligned to Zuma said Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize did not attend the party because they were still unhappy over the NWC’s backing of Zuma.
He said there was a clear boycott of the party by the anti-Zuma group. “There was a boycott of the party. Now I hear there was a problem among the top six about who is funding this party. This is his last birthday as the president of the ANC. And the ANC has never celebrated his birthday,” he said.
This week, more NEC members came out publicly to demand a meeting of the NEC, the party’s highest decision-making body between conferences, saying the NWC, a management structure, did not have the authority to decide on calls for Zuma to step down.
Mathole Motshekga, ANC NEC member and chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, added his voice to calls for the convening of an urgent special NEC meeting.
The ANC in the Western Cape and the Umkhonto we Sizwe Council also threw their weight behind calls for a special gathering of the ANC top brass.
The NWC, which consists of 26 members, has backed Zuma, together with the majority of the 18 provincial secretaries and chairpersons. But some elected NEC members who are not on the NWC are pushing the party to convene a special meeting of the NEC, which comprises 104 members.
ANC NEC member Phil Mapulane, who chairs the parliamentary environmental affairs portfolio committee, said the NEC was better positioned to take decisions on the recent political developments.
“I support the calls for the convening of the special NEC. The ANC is the leader of society. As you have seen in the last couple of days, there have been two big marches since the NEC met. There have been two junk status ratings occasioned by this reshuffle,” he said.
“Society is calling for the leadership of the NEC. The NWC is a substructure of the ANC. The NWC can’t deal with this crisis on its own. It can only recommend. So it’s quite urgent that the NEC meets,” he said.
In the last NEC meeting in November, Zuma survived a motion of no confidence led by former tourism minister Derek Hanekom.
An NWC member reiterated calls for the NEC to meet urgently. “The NEC is not the substructure of the NWC. Its meetings are not a favour from the NWC, officials or any individual. The NEC is the leadership structure. Under the prevailing political conditions, it has the responsibility to meet and lead the entire ANC, alliance and South African society,” he said.
“(The ANC) is not in dire straits, it is dying on account of one man. It is going to lose the 2019 national elections on account of one man, Jacob Zuma,” he said.
The Sunday Independent understands Mathole and several NEC members have written letters and made calls to Mantashe requesting an urgent NEC meeting. Mantashe would not confirm receiving the letters and calls. “Go back to Mathole and ask him,” he said on Saturday.