Johannesburg - The ANC is scrambling to ensure that President Jacob Zuma's possible recall does not fracture the party.
On Sunday, party president Cyril Ramaphosa and other ANC officials descended on KwaZulu-Natal in what was believed to be a visit to manage the fires that might rage if Zuma were fired or stepped down.
Several party sources say there is concern that Zuma's departure, if badly handled, could fracture the party nationally and definitely spell trouble in the crucial province.
This emerged as officials of Umkhonto weSizwe on Sunday led a push-back against Zuma’s ousting, saying they would meet on Monday to discuss “unfortunate” calls for the president to be recalled.
The party's newly elected national executive committee (NEC) is to meet for the first time on Wednesday, where Zuma's fate is set to dominate discussions.
Ramaphosa, his deputy David Mabuza, secretary-general Ace Magashule, national chairperson Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Paul Mashatile on Sunday met Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at his palace in Nongoma, northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Zwelithini is a crucial figure in the politics of the province. His approval has often been sought by leaders in the ANC, IFP and EFF during election periods.
Ramaphosa told Zwelithini that party leaders were going to work hard to ensure that they recalibrate the ANC.
“Delegates at the conference chose leadership that combines various approaches, views and grouping within our movement. The leadership before you is a unity leadership that is meant to unite our organisation and make it strong,” Ramaphosa said.
The party leadership were also due to visit the graves of former ANC presidents Josiah Gumede, John Langalibalele Dube and Inkosi Albert Luthuli.
A senior ANC leader in KZN, who is a known Zuma supporter, said the party was mainly concerned about a Zuma recall, and were even more so after hundreds of amabutho (Zulu warriors) marched to the Durban City Hall.
On Friday, Zuma addressed hundreds of amabutho, wielding traditional weapons. Organised by a group calling itself Umbimbi Lwamabutho (the coalition of regiments), the march was mainly to demand that land be returned to the indigenous people and to fight against any removal of Zuma. It was seen as the start of Zuma's fightback strategy.
The ANC top six's meeting with the king was also expected to discuss this matter, said one leader.
“Remember that ultimately the king is the commander of the Zulu army and therefore the matter should be discussed to ensure that amabutho are not used to fight political battles,” the leader, who did not want to be named, said.
“KZN is the only province where the ANC has been increasing its electoral support, and to some extent that can be attributed to Zuma's appeal.
"Now if they remove him, it had better be carefully handled, because you are then risking KZN voter apathy come 2019, and we have to consider what that would mean for the movement. That is what we are saying they (the NEC) should consider,” he added.
A tripartite alliance leader said the top six wanted to make an assessment of the mood of people around Zuma.
He said the new leadership did not want to make the same mistake former president Thabo Mbeki made in 2005 by underestimating Zuma's influence in KZN, which later became a seedbed for his fightback.
On Sunday, the MK Military Veterans Association said the meeting of its officials would deal with “unfortunate rumours about pressure to recall President Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa”.
Sparks were expected to fly when Zuma's future is discussed by the NEC.
Police Minister and ANC NEC member Fikile Mbalula, who has been one of Zuma’s most staunch backers, on Sunday expressed confidence that Zuma's recall would help improve the image of the ANC.
Speaking at a mini-rally in East London, Mbalula said the ANC's decline and problems in the past had been attributable to Zuma as the president and not to the ANC and its capacity to implement policies.
“The ANC has not been criticised about implementing its own policies, it has been held to ransom in relation to the presidential figure in terms of the issues that arise around that particular individual.
"We have a new president now, and going forward we are confident that we will build on where others have left off,” Mbalula said.
With the pending push for Zuma's removal as president of the country, Mbalula said the new leadership was empowered to decide on Zuma’s fate should the two-centres-of-power matter create problems.
“The issue of two centres of power in relation to that matter, conference is very clear that the centre is the ANC. The ANC will take decisions should the issue of centres of power become a hindrance in the work of the ANC.
“The leadership of the ANC and the NEC will direct, and once the matter is put on the agenda, the national executive committee will deliberate on those issues and make proper decisions.
“The question of whether President Zuma stays till when is a matter that remains on the agenda and that will remain on the agenda, and the NEC will pronounce on it,” Mbalula said.
He threw his weight behind the anti-corruption chorus, calling for the removal of those who were corrupt and incompetent.
“The ANC will now identify those who are lazy who think when they are appointed to positions they are decorations; those who think their posts belong to their homes.
“The ANC will do away with theft now, and all those fingered will be arrested,” he said.
He also called on all those who backed Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma before last month's conference to humble themselves and rally behind Ramaphosa.
“We went to that conference contesting each other and came out united with Ramaphosa as our president, there is no other president. The fairytale of who wanted whom (as president) has ended now; it will only be opened in 2022, where I will also be contesting,” Mbalula said to laughter and applause.
Meanwhile, the ANC in the Eastern Cape is pulling out all stops to ensure that it fills up the Buffalo City Stadium after reports of a possible boycott by disgruntled supporters of Dlamini Zuma.
The majority of the ANC’s new NEC have already made their way to the city ahead of their crucial meeting.
Eastern Cape ANC provincial secretary Lulama Ngcukaitobi said any attempt to boycott the event would be pointless as the province would easily fill the stadium on its own.
The nearby Jan Smuts Stadium and Buffalo Park Cricket Stadium have been earmarked for overflow.
“We have already mobilised, and currently I can tell you that no less than 100 000 members and supporters of the ANC from the Eastern Cape will be there.
"The mobilisation is still continuing as NEC members are already here to continue to assisting with the build-up, so there are no structures that can have an impact on the turnout if they boycott,” Ngcukaithobi said.
The Eastern Cape was the biggest ANC provincial bloc behind Ramaphosa’s presidential bid during last month’s national elective congress.