ANC heavyweights from KwaZulu-Natal, including Sbu Ndebele and Sihle Zikalala who once worked closely with former president Jacob Zuma, are now taking him on as he campaigns vigorously for the newly-formed MK party.
Ndebele, the ambassador to India, and Zikalala, a current ANC national executive committee (NEC) member, was speaking at a wreath-laying ceremony for Struggle veterans in Ndwedwe, north of Durban, on Sunday just days after NEC members Bheki Cele and Senzo Mchunu addressed Zuma’s support for a rival party.
ANC insiders in the province said it was the “automatic duty” of these NEC members to defend the party and to take on Zuma.
The former president has criticised ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and said he would campaign and vote for the MK Party in the upcoming elections.
Ndebele, the former KZN premier and an election campaign veteran, on Sunday responded to the Zuma-endorsed MK party, saying many parties had been formed since 1994 and described the ANC as an organisation that is “of today, of yesterday and tomorrow”.
“Throughout the ages there have always been parties that have sprung up, like the PAC and others in 2009 (referring to Cope).
“It is a free country and anyone has the right to associate but the point is what are you standing for, have you mobilised in a democratic way in constituting yourself in the first place?” Ndebele said.
He said the ANC in its method and objective was democratic and this gave the party confidence in KZN.
Zikalala said the ANC was not threatened by the emergence of the MK party.
“Those who have decided to go have decided, but we represent the people of South Africa and we are here to campaign and win elections,” Zikalala said.
A one-time close ally of Zuma, Cele last week addressed a gathering of activists in eThekwini and criticised Zuma for saying he would return to the Union Buildings to fix the country’s challenges.
“He had the supreme power of the presidency. All of a sudden he wants to fix things. If he wanted to fix things he should have done that while he was president, not to come here now and talk about fixing things,” Cele said.
Zuma has promised to reveal compromising information on his colleagues, and Cele said there was also compromising information that Zuma would not like to be shared.
“My commander in exile was Jacob Zuma. When he says he knows things, he must come out and say them so that we can also speak of his business. He has been threatening us. He must come speak, we will also speak.
“Even during his rape trial we told him we are supporting the ANC, not him – because he is a custodian of that office, we are standing with that ... don’t misinterpret us.”
Cele said he had concerns that Zuma’s campaign against the ANC could provoke violence.
Mchunu at the weekend warned members of the ANC Youth League not to get swept away by the comments of Zuma and the MK party.
“When you divide the ANC, yet you call yourself a member of the ANC ... you are going against the founding principles of the ANC.
“You cannot one day say there is something called the ANC of Ramaphosa. We are told he joined the ANC at age 16, yet all these years he has never been able to grasp the principles on which the ANC was founded,” said Mchunu, adding that Zuma was motivated by hatred for Ramaphosa.
An ANC insider said it was the NEC members’ duty to “expose the fallacy and opportunism which is central to the Zuma MK party campaign”.
“Cele’s comments reveal that this is just the start of more details being revealed. It must be noted that these leaders are being measured in their response because KZN has an unfortunate history of violence and we must all be responsible in the messages we send.
“Society will judge those who are reckless with their statements, harshly,” the source said.
Political analyst Professor Bheki Mngomezulu said it was concerning that NEC members had raised the issue of Zuma and the MK party, yet ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula and chairperson Gwede Mantashe had indicated that Zuma would not be expelled.
“If this was formalised, then the ANC could sit down with the former president and discuss these issues. It is not clear if the KZN NEC members have been dispatched by Luthuli House.
“By going public without formal authority, another NEC member may then publicly share a different viewpoint.”
Mngomezulu said the party’s NEC and national working committee needed to look into the matter and how it should be handled.