"We have suspended plenary for about 45 minutes. We have told the delegates to leave the tent as soon as possible before the storm arrives. We are just taking precautionary measures … We are also advising the media to take these precautions very seriously," said ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe at a media briefing on Wednesday.
The briefing turned into a raucous occasion when journalists asked Mantashe if the storm was not "a curse by ANC ancestors" or an omen for internal battles that lies ahead following the re-election of President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday.
"A rain is a blessing. A storm is rain in a different form. It is like snow," said Mantashe, to loud guffaws from journalists who were expecting to be briefed about the latest policy decisions taken by the national congress.
Mthembu interjected: "It is not a laughing matter."
In 2007, after Zuma was elected party president, it rained in Polokwane. This year's conference venue in Mangaung had a dark cloud hanging over it just before it stormed for about five minutes.
Voting for the ANC's additional national executive committee members was suspended as 4 500 delegates were removed from queues to "solid structures". Even businesspeople exhibiting in the Progressive Business Forum marquee were evacuated.
National spokesperson Jackson Mthembu, who accompanied Mantashe to the press briefing, said the ANC was warned by the Free State disaster management about the storm on Wednesday morning.
"They said the storm will hit between 2pm and 4pm. Then 2pm came, 3pm came and then we thought we were safe. But disaster management came again and said the storm is almost here. That is why we are taking precautionary measures," he said.
The storm, which came at about 5pm, delayed some of conference proceedings but Mantashe said delegates would work until late at night to make up lost time.Mantashe also confirmed to journalist that the ANC received a letter from former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, which he wrote along with suspended league leaders Sindiso Mgaqa and Floyd Shivambu, in which they pleaded with the party to take them back. Mantashe said the letter arrived late after conference had adopted the agenda, but also stressed that the ANC wouldn't entertain that because the case went through all the party's disciplinary structures.