Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe have allegedly fallen out over the Gupta plane saga, sources said.
They told The Star that the use of the Waterkloof Air Force Base by the Guptas had been the final straw for Mantashe, who allegedly privately expressed concern about a perception that the family wielded too much influence in government and ANC affairs.
They added that Mantashe’s supporters had since thrown their weight behind ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa after reports that some of Zuma’s allies planned to block him from taking over as ANC president in 2017.
The Guptas landed an Airbus A330-200 at the base without any permission on Tuesday and were escorted by an illegal blue-light convoy to Sun City for a family wedding.
Five officials have since been suspended and nine Tshwane metro policemen arrested.
Mantashe declined to comment on Sunday night. “I don’t deal with bureaucrats in government. I do not know who these ANC leaders are and I can’t talk to an imagined person.”
ANC national spokesman Jackson Mthembu dismissed suggestions that Zuma and Mantashe had fallen out.
He said this was old “bulls***” peddled by people who wanted to sow divisions among ANC leaders.
According to two government sources and two ANC insiders, the Gupta plane scandal had also divided cabinet members.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media and also feared victimisation. This was the main reason why most of the invited ministers had “boycotted” the lavish wedding. The sources also claimed the plane scandal had resulted in Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula threatening to quit.
They insisted that the minister had allegedly told her close confidants she was prepared to resign from her position rather than be the fall guy for other people’s questionable decisions. This could not be independently verified.
Mapisa-Nqakula’s adviser, Mike Ramagoma, denied she had threatened to quit.
“The minister was understandably very angry that after her decision that Waterkloof Air Force Base may not be used to land that aircraft, it seems somebody had gone ahead to undermine her decision. But at no time did she threaten to resign, as she accepts the pressure that comes with a job like this,” said Ramagoma.
This came amid an escalating public outcry and political fallout over the decision to allow a civilian plane to break security regulations by landing at a national key point.
Sources claimed that the “kitchen cabinet”, a group of predominantly Zulu-speaking ministers and national ANC leaders, took key ANC and government decisions without Mantashe’s input.
This included the appointment of the Limpopo ANC and the ANC Youth League task teams.
“The Gupta plane issue was the final straw in the relationship between Gwede, Zuma and the think-tanks in the ANC. They are saying that ‘if this is what Thabo Mbeki was trying to protect the ANC from, we are learning the hard way’,” said the source.
Mthembu said he was not aware of any kitchen cabinet.
Sources said Mantashe was concerned that the perceived existence of the kitchen cabinet, which allegedly planned to rule the ANC for 20 years, would vindicate expelled ANCYL president Julius Malema’s argument that there was tribalism in the ANC.
Malema said on Sunday the plane saga had vindicated him after he had warned the ANC about the Guptas in 2011.
Malema said the Guptas had long taken “control of our government through President Jacob Zuma”.
He added: “It is not a fallacy that the Gupta family have tremendous control over the ANC and government, and have had influence and knowledge of key decisions even before the most senior of ANC leaders are aware.”
A provincial ANC leader said while he was not aware of any fallout, the timing and critical nature of Mantashe’s statement on the plane saga made him and some ANC leaders conclude that he might have fallen out with Zuma.
“Remember, Gwede came out quickly on Tuesday and said this thing is unacceptable and must be fully investigated. It is unprecedented for him to speak on government things ahead of Cosatu and Zwelinzima Vavi,” he said.
Mthembu said: “There is no tension. There is no fall-out. I do not know where this is coming from.”
He added that, contrary to claims, Ramaphosa was likely to succeed Zuma “as per ANC tradition”.
A source who is sympathetic to Zuma, who was briefed by three cabinet members, said the Guptas had divided government ministers. He added that seven other ministers had told him three months ago they would boycott the wedding in protest.
"Those who don’t want the Guptas believe that this family is being treated like royalty, which is unacceptable.
“But obviously, even if these ministers are distancing themselves, they can’t come out in public and say so, because it would be career-limiting,” the ANC leader said.
However, he maintained Zuma’s innocence, saying he was a victim of ministers and officials who ingratiate themselves with the Guptas “because of the so-called links to the president”.