Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma deliberately snubbed the ANC’s Gauteng conference because of the party’s stance on e-tolls.
A highly placed source in the party’s provincial leadership told The Star Zuma had also taken the “conscious decision” not to attend because he feared he would be booed by some of the delegates.
The provincial ANC had formally invited him to attend and deliver the keynote address, as proof that the wounds of the ANC’s contested elective conference in Mangaung might have healed.
But Zuma neither opened nor closed proceedings. Instead, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa stood in for him on Friday, with ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte delivering the closing address on Sunday.
On Friday, Ramaphosa hinted that Zuma might not attend the conference, saying his chances of arriving were “50/50”.
Ramaphosa said Zuma was busy with ANC work across the country, without specifying.
Sources said the provincial leadership was concerned Zuma’s no-show would fuel speculation of a growing rift between Gauteng and the national leadership, and that the president was exacting revenge for Gauteng’s decision not to back him for a second term.
“We had thought that we had moved beyond Mangaung, but it seems that there are some hangovers. We are disappointed because we had wanted to lay this issue of conflict between the provincial and national leadership to rest. It would have been better for him to be here, but it seems we haven’t moved.”
Reports of a growing rift between Gauteng ANC leaders and the national leadership have persisted since Mangaung, exacerbated by Gauteng Premier David Makhura’s decision to subject the e-toll system to a provincial review, bolstering perceptions the provincial structure is defying the ANC national executive committee.
It has been reported that the e-tolls saga had split the ANC top six, with the governing party’s secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, and his deputy, Duarte, allegedly at loggerheads.
Mantashe allegedly ordered officials from the national Department of Transport and roads agency Sanral not to co-operate with the review panel.
Duarte, who is reportedly supporting the review process, was quoted as previously telling her political confidants that “I would rather go to jail than pay e-tolls”.
Duarte seemed to fuel the speculation when she spoke about what she said were attempts to delegitimise the ANC as a liberation movement.
“There are people who are trying to delegitimise our movement in the eyes of the public. Even today, this conference has been reduced to the fact that the president is doing work elsewhere.”
“There is no gap between this province and national leadership. That (serving the people) is more important to whether somebody has come to close the conference or not,” Duarte said.
Zuma was on Sunday said to have been attending an education trust event in KwaZulu-Natal.
Another source familiar with the preparations for the conference said Gauteng would not buckle under pressure from the national government and desist from reviewing the implementation of the e-tolls.
“Ramaphosa was invited on the principle that the president would speak. We had hoped to put this thing of conflict to rest, but it seems the president still harbours some vengeance,’ he said.
The source added there was concern Zuma could have been booed by some of the delegates aggrieved with how the Nkandla scandal is damaging the integrity of the ANC.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj was not immediately available for comment.