Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) national council conference on Saturday. Picture: Getrude Makhafola/ANA

Johannesburg - African National Congress leaders have not done much to unite former uMhonto we Sizwe (MK) combatants and have actually contributed to deepening divisions between the two warring groups, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday.

''As leadership of the ANC, we must accept that we have not taken up the challenge to unite the MK. In fact, if we are to be honest, we have also contributed to the divisions plaguing the MK,'' Ramaphosa said to applause from MK national council conference delegates in Johannesburg.

''This is the time for the truth... it is the time to be honest and truth must be told if we are going to unite our movement and move forward,'' he said.

The former soldiers had sacrificed their lives for South Africans and could not be undermined or ignored. ''We need to do more. We cannot achieve lasting unity in the ANC if the former soldiers are not united... we want you to be united and work tirelessly to forge that unity. The MK cannot be wished away from the life of the ANC; they cannot be airbrushed out of this painting that we think we are putting together. You have a role to play as you have always had in the ANC and our liberation struggle.''

In the face of rampant corruption and allegations of state capture, the ANC now needed courageous cadres to speak out against any wrongdoing. ''We need cadres who will resist temptation to be corrupted or even to be captured. Not only should they have the courage to confront bullets from the enemy but confront malpractices, such as corruption and patronage that have penetrated our movement. 

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''Some say we should not talk about these things because by doing so we blemish our own movement... but our people know where we are and by not speaking out we're deceiving our people. We need to talk about what is happening so that we can correct the wrong things happening in our ranks... and I believe that is why you are all here,'' Ramaphosa said.

Divisions and factionalism within the ANC has seen the former soldiers splitting into two groups – the MKMVA (uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association) and the MK council. The MK council is led by a steering committee consisting of former combatants, including Deputy Justice and Correctional Services Minister Thabang Makwetla and former MK chief of staff and former South African National Defence Force (SANDF) chief Siphiwe Nyanda. 

President Jacob Zuma’s staunch supporter Kebby Maphatsoe, who had chaired the MKMVA, was elected its president at a conference in June. Zuma addressed that MKMVA conference. The MK council withdrew from the conference at the eleventh hour after initially agreeing to participate and forge a united MK veterans’ organisation.

The two warring organisations claim to represent the interests of the former MK soldiers, but are yet to form a united front. The MK council wants the MKMVA June conference annulled, saying it was fraudulent and sowed divisions among the former soldiers. Nyanda criticised Zuma for addressing ”an illegitimate” conference and accused him of sowing divisions by choosing which conferences to attend.