“It was a mistake comrades. I want to say it here. You can hang me or crucify me but it was a mistake, especially by those veterans and stalwarts who said ‘there is a crisis to which we are not going to attend; it's your crisis’,” Mantashe told a packed hall at the inaugural ANC Veterans’ League conference at the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg.
Mantashe, who spoke after it was announced that President Jacob Zuma would not be attending owing to presidential commitments outside the country, said veterans also had to find solutions to the challenges facing the ruling party.
Elders of the ANC have raised their concerns over the dissent facing the party. They have called on Zuma to step down so that the ANC can return to its former core values which they say have been eroded under his leadership.
Mantashe said those who had fought for liberation in the past could not afford to turn their backs on the ANC, especially now.
“Veterans cannot behave as a counterforce.
“Veterans must lead in the efforts at finding solutions. If not, every action is followed by a reaction. Once the veterans behave as a counterforce, then everybody holds back,” added Mantashe.
He also called on the leadership to emulate former ANC president Oliver Tambo and said that comrades had to rein in the chaos within the party.
“Comrades say the ANC has changed. If it had not changed it would be a sick organisation. Others have come to the ANC with the intention of hurting it. People who can help us mitigate against these risks are the Veterans,” he said.
The first day of the three-day conference kicked off as judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court of Appeal on the so-called Spy Tapes case against Zuma.
The Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a High Court ruling that the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to drop 783 corruption charges against Zuma was irrational.
Speaking on the sidelines, Mantashe said the ANC was yet to make a decision on the matter.
“The NPA will decide whether to charge the president.
“It has not decided yet. Let's allow that process to take its course and then the ANC will decide thereafter,” he said.
Mantashe said Zuma’s bid to appeal the High Court ruling was his constitutional right.
Mantashe poured cold water on suggestions that he was endorsing ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa for the ANC presidency.
Meanwhile, reacting to the SCA judgment, MK Veteran’s Council chairperson General Simphiwe Nyanda said the ruling was significant for Zuma and the ANC.
“It is incumbent on the ANC that, as these charges have been put back at the door of the president of the ANC, that it sits and thinks hard about how it (ANC) will proceed with a president who is facing so many serious changes. From the veterans point of view, we think the ANC should engage and interrogate how they could go on with a president who is so compromised,” he said.
The conference is expected to end on Sunday with the 300-plus delegates adopting a number of resolutions. Actress and singer Marah Louw insisted that the ANC had to be rescued.
“This organisation belongs to the whole continent. It is not just a South African organisation.If we fail we would have failed the whole continent. We cannot let this country go back into the hands of oppressors,” she said.