The event deteriorated into chaos as Gordhan, ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize and other speakers were heckled by members of the ANC Youth League, who had come to show support for embattled President Jacob Zuma.
After the event Gordhan refused to say much on the developments.
“You saw it was not only me who was disrupted; even the treasurer-general was disrupted,” he said.
The league has accused Gordhan of using the Kathrada memorial service to attack Zuma. Before the event it mobilised its members to attend and show their support for Zuma.
On Saturday, the Durban High Court granted league members permission to attend the event after civil organisation, the Active Citizens Movement, made an urgent application to stop them, fearing they would disrupt proceedings.
While the league had said its members were not going to disrupt the event, it became clear as the programme started that the knives were out for the former finance minister.
“Uncle Kathy would have never agreed to his name being used to divide the country along racial lines, and that his name be used to tear apart his organisation, the ANC,” said Thanduxolo Sabelo, the provincial secretary of the ANCYL in his address at the event.
In a veiled swipe at Gordhan, who was axed from the cabinet recently, Sabelo said: “Despite his seniority in the ANC, not once did Uncle Kathy demand a cabinet position.”
The league members, who were clearly in the majority at the hall, started howling and singing as soon as Gordhan took to the podium.
Sihle Zikalala, the provincial chairman of the ANC, had to take the podium half way through Gordhan’s speech to try to calm down the members.
However, they continued with their disruption and waved anti-Gordhan placards.
“Where were you during apartheid?” asked one placard, while another one read: “The ANC Youth League in KZN supports the cabinet reshuffle.”
During a brief speech, Gordhan, who was wearing an ANC T-shirt, emphasised the importance of unity, but said such unity must be based on principle.
“You see comrades, any two of us can make a deal today that somebody will pass on a nice bag of money, we share the money and we say we are not going to fight because we all have a bit of money. Unity cannot be based on money. Unity cannot be based on these brown bags of money that are moving around all over. That is not Kathrada’s ANC.”
Sabelo would later slam Gordhan for this statement, which he said was provocative to league members.
“The memorial service was going well until that provocation. Why does he speak of brown bags of money and not report such to the relevant authorities?” asked Sabelo.
However, he said the league would investigate the incident and take the necessary steps against its members, where it felt they were warranted.
During his speech, Gordhan warned that the divisions in the ANC could cost the party dearly in the 2019 elections.
“If we continue squabbling among ourselves we will lose the confidence of people from all walks of life. We want to remain in government so that we can change South Africa,” he said.
As the crowd booed him, Gordhan said: “We said we will sort out our differences in the structures. Let us live that principle. Let us go to the structures.
“Comrade Kathrada and his generation also wanted radical economic transformation, but that radical economic transformation cannot be for a handful of people. It must be for all of us.”
Mkhize, who recently spoke out publicly against the way in which Zuma had handled the cabinet reshuffle, was not spared the wrath of the league.
Despite being conciliatory in tone, Mkhize’s speech was drowned out by members of the league who sang and danced as a show of defiance.
Mkhize appealed for calm, saying the ANC was dealing with all the issues that were a source of division.
“Allow the leadership to deal with these issues. We are still the ANC, even if we differ in our views.”
Trying to speak above the singing crowd, Mkhize said: “I hope that going forward we will not have the disagreements being expressed in front of all the people while we are dealing with a commemorative process.”
Zikalala condemned the heckling of leaders, saying the ANC in the province would engage the league on the matter.
“We do not support howling and heckling. You must accept that if you have a view that you air publicly, someone might have a view that is contrary.”
The league had previously voiced concerns that the services for Kathrada had become a platform to bash Zuma.
Zikalala also lashed out at leaders who used memorial events to voice disagreement, saying such conduct was devoid of the spirit of ubuntu