President Thabo Mbeki’s team fought back after a first day of humiliation at the African National Congress’s (ANC) 52nd national conference at Polokwane, holding an unprecedented rally at lunchtime on Monday. Jacob Zuma’s people responded with an even bigger rally.
The Mbeki rally was part of a package of measures to turn back the voting gains of deputy president Zuma, who is set to take the top job.
Mbeki’s team intends to contest the way in which votes are counted and it began to whittle down the Zuma majority by querying the credentials report. Gauteng lost 94 votes, the majority of them Zuma-supporting regions, say insiders.
While the Zuma team has secured a manual vote count, the president’s team believes that this can be manipulated, saying that the electronic counting will pick up votes cast by delegates who are not supposed to be voting and disqualify them.
A motion by the ANC Youth League to insist on manual voting for the top six officials was adopted on Sunday, but the Mbeki camp is set to contest the ruling. Voting was to start on Monday night.
A campaigner for Mbeki claimed his rivals want to use the manual method as a tactic to cover up for bogus members who are not allowed to vote.
The Mbeki camp defines bogus members as those who voted in provincial nominations but who should not have been allowed to do so because various branch procedures had not been correctly followed. These included whether meetings were quorate and whether they were branches in good standing.
Mbeki supporters claimed Zuma’s support was more singing than substance.
The people who were singing and chanting at Sunday’s opening session were substantially boosted by “staff and service providers”, they say. The ANC conference programme says there are 1 000 staff and service providers, not all of whom were in the plenary session.
The credentials report, which is the final determination of whether a delegate can attend the conference, was subject to a strict audit by Mbeki people whose objections saw 96 Gauteng votes disqualified.
Gauteng delegates said they had been given permission by secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe to attend, even though their meetings had not met all procedural requirements.
The Eastern Cape moved a motion declaring that the ANC Youth League’s 68 members should be excluded because the young lions have not held their annual congress. The motion was defeated.
Mbeki’s team found the fire in its belly on Monday after his team and the Cabinet looked decidedly downcast on Monday. “We were actually surprised when we arrived here [at the conference] about the level of support Mbeki was getting from different branches across the country,” a key Mbeki lobbyist said.
At lunch, another unprecedented spectacle took place when both camps held contesting rallies.
About 1 000 Mbeki supporters gathered in the stadium next to the plenary tent with the 2 000 Zuma supporters a few metres away, each singing the praises of their preferred leader.
Earlier in the day, delegates handed over partisan placards after a talking-to by Motlanthe, but while the leadership has tried to put a lid on the divisions, it is proving impossible.
The Zuma rally was addressed by ANC Youth League president Fikile Mbalula, who complained of smear campaigns. He denied persistent rumours that the conference would be postponed. “The conference will succeed,” he said.
Deputy Minister of Defence Mluleki George told the Mbeki rally that not all supporters were in attendance. “There were comrades who were not there because they were with the Zuma group because they felt intimidated.”
However, George assured delegates that victory is certain for Mbeki. “You are calling the election too early for your own comfort. Here is the leader who led this country for almost a decade. Why should we throw away the best?” a Mbeki lobbyist asked the crowd.
Smuts Ngonyama on Monday assured journalists that the conference would not continue beyond Thursday, despite the event running behind schedule. “We can’t afford to stay another day in Polokwane,” joked NEC member Jeff Radebe.
THE VOTING NUMBERS
Allocated by NEC: 906
Voting delegates present at conference: 877
From provincial executive committee (PEC): 22
Present: 62 (Penuell Maduna absent)