Picture: @GautengANC/Twitter

Johannesburg - ANC Gauteng chairperson Paul Mashatile has taken issue with President Jacob Zuma’s scathing attack on the party’s veterans and stalwarts, as the fallout over the issue escalates.

Mashatile said the ANC could not afford to undermine the role its veterans and stalwarts were playing in the organisation, saying the party’s leadership should make overtures towards the stalwarts in order to bridge the divide.

“My view is that the leadership of the ANC must continue to engage with the veterans. I don’t think we should tire, I don’t think we should fight in the public space and in newspapers,” Mashatile said, speaking to The Star on the sidelines of the party’s policy conference in Nasrec, Soweto.

“I think, beyond this conference, the president and the NEC (national executive committee) must call the veterans and meet with them and find solutions - we need them.”

Mashatile was reacting to the president’s opening address at the conference on Friday, where Zuma departed briefly from his prepared speech to launch a scathing attack on the stalwarts, accusing them of thinking they were “bigger than the branches of the ANC”, including the national leadership.

“They see us (national leaders) purely as administrators,” Zuma charged.

ANC veteran Andrew Mlangeni - one of the last two surviving Rivonia Trial accused - who is also a Zuma critic, left the stage immediately after the president’s castigation.

The matter, which has highlighted the rifts among senior ANC leaders, appears to be among the issues overshadowing the policy conference.

On Saturday, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu also criticised Zuma for his attacks on the veterans.

On Sunday, the stalwarts and veterans rebuked Zuma for his “shameful” comments against them, accusing him of abusing the conference to attack them.

“The stalwarts and veterans are totally perplexed by the bizarre and dishonest statements by the president that we are ‘so-called leaders’ and that we are accused of having stated with respect to branches, ‘they said they don’t think the quality of discussions here is at their level. They need serious discussion. These are the people who claim they have values and understanding of the ANC’,” the veterans stated.

“We totally reject these assertions by the president and believe he knows that what they told the delegates to the conference, and through the media, the South African public at large, about the stalwarts and veterans is patently untrue. He will not be able to produce a shred of evidence to support the shameful statements,” they said.

The veterans and stalwarts have called on Zuma to resign, while the ANC in Gauteng also said the president “should do the right thing”, a statement interpreted as the province’s call on him to step down.

But on Sunday Police Minister Fikile Mbalula said Zuma was going nowhere and warned MPs that they would be expelled if they voted with the opposition in the August 8 motion of no-confidence.

ANC MPs should vote, not according to their conscience, but in line with the decisions of the party, Mbalula said.

Likening ANC MPs who plan on voting against Zuma to suicide bombers, Mbalula said the party would institute disciplinary action against MPs who defy the party.

“A suicide bomber is somebody who dies for an ideology; whether it is right or wrong, they die for it...”

He cautioned that the removal of a sitting president had, in the past, proved to be a costly mistake on the part of the ANC.

The recall of former president Thabo Mbeki in 2008 had not only led to the formation of Cope, but it had led to an exodus of experienced leaders and thinkers.

Despite there being growing calls for the removal of Zuma from even within ANC ranks, Mbalula said pinning all problems facing the party on Zuma was not correct.

He said Zuma would stay on as party leader until December, when the ANC is expected to elect new leadership.

Mbalula said the losses suffered by the ANC in the Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay metros had not only “frightened” the ANC but had made it think hard.

He said the party was aware it had to be on its toes, otherwise it would lose power to the “liberals and demagogues”.

“It is not gonna be easy in 2019, but we will rise and we will defend power,” said Mbalula.

This was while Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that there were attempts to block ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s explosive diagnostic report into the crisis plaguing the party.

Mantashe’s report was seen as a victory for supporters of Ramaphosa, after it criticised the influence Zuma’s friends the Guptas have on state affairs.

“The diagnosis document was approved by the NEC. Initially, some of the delegates said ‘no, maybe it should not be presented’. Finally, it was agreed that is should be presented.

“It should also form the basis to enrich the discussions that are going to ensue.

“That document essentially looks at the ANC quite critically,” Ramaphosa said.

“As you know, the ANC is a living organism. It would go through ups and downs, and that document recognises that and, in a very honest way, looks at quite a number of issues that are challenges to the ANC,” he added.

The Star