165 Tokyo Sexwale during the first day of the ANC policy conference at Gallagher Estate in Midrand. 260612. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Human Settlements Minister and presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale suffered a humiliating defeat when delegates at the ANC policy conference rejected him, the City Press reported on its website on Tuesday.

In the opening session of the conference, Sexwale intervened in a discussion on conference rules led by ANC chairwoman Baleka Mbete.

While Sexwale was talking, delegates started getting rowdy and drowned him out. Eventually, a delegate from Limpopo told him that the rules had been adopted by the ANC’s national executive committee, of which Sexwale is a member.

Mbete agreed with the delegate and Sexwale had to sit down.

The issue Sexwale raised related to the singing of songs at the conference. City Press said he had wanted to point out that songs about specific leaders were prohibited, but delegates continued singing songs about President Jacob Zuma.

“The rules here say the singing of derogatory songs are not allowed, but what about songs that are in my favour?” Sexwale told the plenary.

A Sexwale sympathiser said the minister had been trying to point out that the enforcing of the rule was inconsistent.

“You can’t violate conference rules in front of your own eyes. If you don’t speak out now, we might as well go back to the death cells.”

Detractors said Sexwale was trying to be a “big man”. Said another: “This is not The Apprentice. This is not a reality TV show. Tokyo is out of touch with reality.”

Some of Sexwale’s sympathisers said the minister’s stand was probably ill-advised, because he had little support on the floor. Sexwale’s move followed Zuma’s opening speech, in which the president emphasised the need for party unity.

When he took the podium, Sexwale said deferentially: “I feel small speaking after the president.”

According to City Press, the incident could be seen as a barometer for Sexwale’s support at the conference. If the reaction of delegates was anything to go by, he would have an uphill battle to secure the presidency. Meanwhile, Zuma defended the singing of songs supporting leaders and individuals in the party.

Responding to a question about his supporters singing certain songs over the past two days, Zuma said this was normal in the ANC and had been done since Albert Luthuli’s day. Soon after his opening address, delegates from the Eastern Cape could be heard singing in Xhosa: “If you mess with Zuma, we will shoot with a revolver.”

The party has barred campaigning for or discussion of leadership until nominations open in October.

One national executive committee member, who asked not to be named, raised his concerns over the singing of the song during the day, saying it was “unacceptable”.

Zuma said people shouldn’t miss the point when members sang songs supporting him or any other leader of the party.

“It’s different when the ANC sings about its leaders; it does not mean anything. I joined when Luthuli was president and we sang about him. We also sang about (Nelson) Mandela… and Thabo Mbeki. When we sing about leaders it is not campaigning. You’re missing the point…

The president is the face of the ANC.”

ANC deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise agreed, saying all songs were welcome as long as they were not of a “derogatory nature”.

“The president is right. Singing about the ANC always reminds our people that we still lead and they still believe in us. This is why the action by AfriForum is amusing,” Modise said, referring to the group’s legal action over the song Dubul’ iBhunu (Shoot the Boer).