The ANC blew a gasket after Gwede Mantashe offered to show journalists around the Nkandla homestead.
Senior ANC officials have rebuked the ANC secretary general for inviting journalists on a tour of President Jacob Zuma's controversial Nkandla homestead, questioning Gwede Mantashe's rationale for inviting "guests" to "someone's private property".
The admonition could be construed as a sign of a rift over Nkandla at the top of the party. Mantashe told journalists two weeks ago: "It is our view that the report of the public protector in the main confirms the findings of the interministerial task team report released in December 2013. We will return to the differences in the remedies to the problems and deviations found by both investigations."
But on Wednesday President Jacob Zuma, in his letter to National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu, spoke of "stark differences both in respect of the findings as well as the remedial action proposed in the two reports". Zuma described the differences as an anomaly.
During his address to the media on March 20, Mantashe – flanked by his deputy Jessie Duarte and party treasurer general Zweli Mkhize – said the ANC would arrange a media tour of Nkandla.
He added that neither he nor Duarte had been to Nkandla – the media visit would give them an opportunity to see what all the fuss was about. But little did he know that the plan to take journalists to Zuma's private home would not go down well with some in the party. ANC insiders told the Mail & Guardian this week Mantashe was criticised by his colleagues for not first discussing his invite with Zuma.
ANC head of communications Lindiwe Zulu confirmed that the timing of the invitation was discussed but "I don't know about the reprimand". "The fact [raised in the national executive committee (NEC) meeting] was that this [the visit to Nkandla] was done before. How will it help now? Secondly, there is a process. Ministers in the security cluster have explained," Zulu said. "It was not a reprimand. A reprimand is to say to someone you must stop doing this and that. The question was what value would it bring by taking journalists on a tour. What will he [Mantashe] explain if he takes journalists there? He has not been involved in the first place. It does not mean there won’t be another time to take journalists there, but the timing is not right."
Mantashe then somersaulted after the meeting of the party's NEC meeting at the weekend. Addressing a media briefing on Monday, he said the decision to invite reporters to Nkandla had been reversed "because it became quite clear, when we wanted to do that, there were processes that were outstanding".
He cited the pending investigations by the Special Investigating Unit, possibly the Hawks and a report by Zuma to Parliament.
Mantashe was "wrong", according to one ANC NEC member. "There are children and family members at that house who need to be respected. But also the family will be exposed to a security risk because journalists will see every detail of the home."
Meanwhile, the ANC is planning to summon party veterans to Luthuli House, including former arts minister Pallo Jordan, Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and former high commissioner to the United Kingdom, Zola Skweyiya – for publicly expressing their displeasure on Nkandla.
Mantashe told journalists: "The NEC raised concerns about senior cadres of the movement who do not bother engaging structures of the movement, but talk negatively about these structures in the public domain. It was resolved that such individuals should be engaged."
Mantashe did not respond to requests for comment.
The M&G understands that Jordan, who attended the NEC meeting last weekend, was criticised for writing negatively about Nkandla in the Business Day last week.
Jordan did not return to the meeting after lunch, an NEC member said.
But Jordan told the M&G he left the meeting because he was rushing to see Abdullah Ibrahim at the Cape Town Jazz festival.
An unrepentant Jordan wrote this week in defence of chapter nine institutions, including the public protector. – Additional reporting by Phillip de Wet