President Thabo Mbeki’s team fought back after a first day of humiliation at the ANC’s 52nd national conference at Polokwane, holding an unprecedented rally at lunchtime. 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 Jacob 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. They say that the electronic counting process will pick up votes cast by delegates who are not supposed to be voting and will be able to disqualify them.
A motion by the Youth League to insist on manual voting for the top six officials was adopted yesterday, but the Mbeki camp is set to contest the ruling. Voting started on Monday night.
A campaigner for Mbeki said their rivals want to use the manual method as a tactic to cover up for bogus members who are not allowed to vote. They define 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 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 the procedural requirements.
The Eastern Cape moved a motion declaring that the 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 today after his team and 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 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 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.”
But 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 speaker asked the crowd.
Smuts Ngonyama assured journalists that the conference will 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.
They sang and chanted in different directions. Signs of desperation were written all over their faces as the moment they have been waiting for so anxiously drew closer.
It all started during lunchtime on Monday when supporters of president Thabo Mbeki convened at the stadium, about 2km from the plenary venue, to consolidate support for their candidates.
In what appeared to be retaliation to the Mbeki group, the Zuma camp also convened a caucus — a few metres away from the plenary venue — where they were address by ANC Youth League president Fikile ”Mbaks” Mbalula.
Mluleki George, Deputy Minister of Defence and a staunch Mbeki supporter, addressed the Mbeki group.
Accompanied by key Mbeki lobbyists Andile Nkuhlu, North West ANC deputy chairperson Molifi Sefularo and Northern Cape ANC secretary Neville Mompati, George rallied about 1 000 Mbeki supporters who included, among others, Cabinet and provincial ministers.
”We have the responsibility to save our revolution. The project of derailing our revolution must be stopped this week. It is in the interest of this country that we stop this anarchy,” George said to loud applause from delegates.
Immediately after he completed his address, delegates exploded into song, declaring their support for Mbeki.
”Kae kapa kae, neng kappa neng re na le wena, Mbeki [Whatever happens, we will always be with you, Mbeki],” they sang.
Two kilometres away Mbalula, hoisted high on the shoulders of Zuma supporters, addressed about 2 000 delegates, mainly low-profile branch members.
Taking a swipe at the Mbeki group, a visibly angry Mbalula said: ”There are people who think this conference will not succeed. We are going to win whether they like it or not. We are not winning because we are smearing leaders.” His address was greeted by huge applause from the gathered Zuma supporters.