Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) national council conference. Picture: Getrude Makhafola/ANA

Johannesburg - Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa told delegates at the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) national council conference on Saturday that he was told not to speak at the conference as that would deem him "factional".

''I was told, 'deputy president, by going to the MK council conference you would be seen as factional'. My response was that I have never been factional in my life. I became a member and leader in various formations from Cosatu [Congress of South African Trade Unions] right through to the time I was elected secretary general [of the African National Congress]... I have always known and understood that the task of a leader is to unite various views of the movement they lead and I see that as my abiding task,'' Ramaphosa said.

He did not mention who warned him not to appear at the conference. Ramaphosa said he was following in the footsteps of ANC leaders such as Kgalema Motlanthe and was honoured to be at the MK conference with him. Motlanthe's presence at the conference did not deem him a factional leader, he 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. 

Read: Zuma, Maphatsoe bashed at #MKCouncil

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.