Baleka Mbete and Sihle Zikalala at the KZN Provincial General Council on Monday. PHOTO:ANA

Durban – Presidential hopeful and African National Congress (ANC) chairperson, Baleka Mbete, told KwaZulu-Natal delegates on Monday not to belittle themselves or the ruling party at the upcoming national conference.

“We must focus on those things that mean the most to our people, like the issues faced by the poor. These things mean the most to the ANC. We will not be at each other’s throats,” she said, to cheers from the crowd.

Mbete was opening the province’s two-day Provincial General Council (PGC), which acts as a precursor to the national conference to be held at Nasrec in a fortnight. The PGC will announce the preferred candidate to take over from Outgoing ANC leader President Jacob Zuma.

KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo are the only provinces still to announce their preferred candidates. The Limpopo PGC also began on Monday.

KZN delegates sing at the start of the Provincial General Council on Monday. VIDEO CLIP:ANA

Read: ANC KZN gather to announce their preferred candidate

Mbete said that although new leadership had taken centre stage with media and analysts, it was just one aspect of the 54th conference.

“The nomination of candidates is an item on the agenda but it is only one item. Our priority is to respond to the needs of our people. We must focus on the needs of our people and what our branches want; branch members live amongst our people,” she said.

“After policy adoptions and programmes of action, we apply our minds to the ANC cadres that will lead us in next five year cycle,” she said.

Mbete also shared with delegates what happened at the so-called “last supper” last week where all ANC presidential candidates dined with president Jacob Zuma.

Also read: Gauteng ANC nominates Ramaphosa for party president

“That last supper, as it has been called, was so constructive and healing. It felt like an extended family gathering and a feeling I haven’t experienced for a while came back to me – of being whole again,” she said.

The mood at the dinner was “relaxed, comradely and healing” she said, and a collective decision was taken not to have clothing that reflected delegates’ preferred candidates or to sing divisive songs.

“We have asked provincial leaders to commit to leading their provinces at the conference in a disciplined and constructive way,” she said. Everything at the conference should reflect the values of the ANC.

She reminded members that the ruling party was bigger than one person or province.

“The ANC is bigger than each of us and all of us put together, bigger than every province collectively or individually, bigger than the December conference. The ANC must emerge triumphant and in tact no matter the conference,” she said.

Mbete said that if she did not win any of the nominations for the top six positions, she would support the winners because it was her responsibility as an ANC cadre. 

“You must be convinced in what you can give to the ANC and hold onto it until the democratic process at congress, then you must accept what happens and say ‘the people have spoken,’” she said.

Read more: Mpumalanga chooses Dlamini Zuma for ANC's top job

“It’s okay to believe in whomever you believe in, but you mustn’t be negative against another cadre who has a right to stand.”

“The whole world is looking at us because the ANC makes a significant contribution to the continent and globe,” she said.

Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa currently leads the race on 1305 nominations, with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on 987, although the number for the former African Union Commission chair includes the so-called “unity” nominations from Mpumalanga.

KwaZulu-Natal is expected to nominate Dlamini-Zuma by a wide margin.

Other than the announcing of nominations, the PGC is expected to deal with the province’s readiness for the national conference, affirm new national leadership positions, hone ANC policy decisions and highlight perspectives on land expropriation without compensation, radical economic transformation, party unity and the 2019 national elections.

More than 700 delegates from ANC branches around the province are in attendance.