Incensed party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe is leading the charge against Andile Lungisa, who was elected the new ANC Nelson Mandela Bay chairperson at the weekend.
Lungisa has landed in the middle of a war of words between factions supporting former AU Commission chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and those who want Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma, who steps down as ANC president in December.
The Eastern Cape is one of the key provinces in the battle for control of the party ahead of the watershed elective conference in December. Lungisa’s election is seen as a major victory for the Zuma camp in their bid to swing the province in favour of Dlamini Zuma.
Mantashe’s stance against Lungisa could drive a wedge between him and Zuma and further divide the party at the top.
The former ANC Youth League (ANCYL) deputy president and member of the Eastern Cape provincial executive committee (PEC) has become a pawn in a bigger battle for control of the province.
So determined is Mantashe to stop Lungisa in his tracks that he has already indicated he will report him to the national disciplinary committee (NDC), chaired by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.
Hanekom, who is among ANC leaders wanting Zuma to step down from power, is expected to decide Lungisa’s fate when he appears before the NDC.
At the centre of the battle is the interpretation of the ANC constitution around leaders contesting positions in lower levels of the party.
Mantashe expressed his displeasure that Lungisa had defied his orders to pull out of the race, quoting a rule prohibiting PEC members from contesting positions in lower structures of the party.
Lungisa defied the orders and accused Mantashe of misinterpreting the rule and of being driven by factional interests. He later apologised, saying the remarks were made in the middle of a heated campaign.
But Mantashe stuck to his guns, saying he had reported Lungisa’s stand on the matter to ANC officials to avoid making it personal.
He said he had also laid a charge with the NDC after Lungisa had “attacked” him in the media as he defended his decision to run for the influential chairperson position.
Mantashe indicated that the rule had been applied consistently since the ANC’s 53rd national conference and “you will not be an exception. You are being contemptuous of the organisation, comrade Lungisa”.
Lungisa is seen as a supporter of Dlamini Zuma, who Zuma prefers to succeed him as ANC leader in December and possibly as the country’s president in 2019.
Zuma jetted into Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after Lungisa was confirmed as the new regional boss, and endorsed him. The president said the majority had spoken and that the ancestors agreed with his election.
Moments after this endorsement, Lungisa leapt to Dlamini Zuma’s defence, calling on the masses to “support and elect a woman president” when the ANC elects its new national leadership in December.
Dlamini Zuma was expected in South Africa today from Ethiopia after her AU stint. A huge welcoming party was expected at OR Tambo International Airport in what appears to be yet another indication by her backers that she is ready to take on Ramaphosa.
Members of the ANC Women’s League and ANCYL, who have publicly endorsed her despite warnings from senior party officials, including Mantashe, were expected to give her a hero’s welcome.
Political analyst Dr Mcebisi Ndletyana said there was nothing untoward about what Mantashe had said. “For starters, if you follow Mantashe’s argument, he is not only quoting the constitution. Several individuals were barred from contesting office in lower structures on the basis that they already serve in higher structures,” he said.
He said the ANC rule on the matter had been “tested and applied on several occasions. There is no reason to believe that Mantashe is motivated by malice”.
It was believed that if Lungisa was not dealt with by the party, his election could set a precedent and result in more ambitious leaders, serving in higher structures, seeking office in lower party structures.
However, political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said: “Rule 17.4 of the ANC says ‘A member elected to the PEC shall resign from any position held in a lower structure in the ANC. Full stop!
“I don’t understand this bizarre interpretation started by Mantashe around this clause. It’s in the event you are elected to the PEC that you are then told to resign from a lower structure.
“It’s bizarre for him to interpret it to say you can’t stand (for positions) in lower structures. Mantashe is conveniently using the clause for his political goals.”
ANC Eastern Cape secretary Oscar Mabuyane issued a statement “welcoming the outcomes” of the Nelson Mandela Bay and Amathole regional conferences.
When contacted for comment on Tuesday night about why the president has endorsed Lungisa, Zuma’s spokesperson Dr Bongani Ngqulunga said: “I don’t comment on ANC matters. I only deal with government stuff.”
Lungisa said: “This matter shall be dealt with internally, so no comment.”
Mantashe couldn’t immediately be reached for comment as his phone was off.