President Jacob Zuma is so alarmed by rumours that some ANC leaders are planning a revolt against him at the party’s coming national general council (NGC) that he has embarked on a tour of provinces to win the hearts and minds of ordinary members, say well-placed ANC sources.
The party’s largest meeting between national conferences will take place in Durban next month.
The provincial tours started last week when Zuma, in his capacity as ANC president, visited the Eastern Cape. He will tour the Western Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal in the weeks ahead.
Zuma’s spin doctors insisted this week that the president’s provincial tours formed part of the ANC’s continuing mass mobilisation programme, dubbed the Imvuselelo campaign. But the Mail & Guardian learned from national executive committee members that Zuma’s visits have been influenced by rumours that some ANC leaders are planning a revolt against him at the NGC.
Cosatu has publicly claimed to have information that some ANC leaders are plotting to oust Zuma. The federation has consistently refused to reveal the names of the ANC leaders behind the plot, but is understood to have shared the information privately with the president, who has taken it seriously.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi urged delegates attending Numsa’s political school this week not to focus on leadership issues at the NGC, but on poverty and corruption. Referring to the ANC Youth League, he warned delegates to prevent any talk of a 2012 succession battle at the NGC.
“If we allow these boys to test the balance of forces — whether they will win in 2012 … we will be in serious trouble,” he said. At the same political school, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande told delegates that he was aware that some ANC leaders wanted to remove ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe at the NGC next month.
Nzimande said he had always known that the attack on Mantashe was also directed at Zuma.
“We always suspected that the main target is [Zuma]. He is leading the ANC in a manner that seeks to build the alliance and this alliance is a threat to some people,” said Nzimande.
It is understood that a number of senior ANC leaders were taken aback when Zuma announced his decision to visit the provinces before the council meeting. It is believed he took the decision after receiving advice from his close allies in government, as well as Cosatu and the SACP.
An ANC insider concerned about Zuma’s affinity with the SACP and Cosatu said: “A number of people were surprised when the president told us he is visiting provinces to prevent members from disrupting the NGC. One official questioned why our own members would want to revolt against the president.”
Another NEC member said that ANC leaders told Zuma at the last NEC meeting to stop being paranoid. “We told him that the NGC will never disintegrate. Provincial ANC leaders are questioning how this [the planned revolt] would happen without their knowledge.
“The people who make him believe these things are from Cosatu, a faction in the ANC with a huge agenda. They want to be in the ANC leadership. They [Cosatu leaders] think they are super-revolutionaries.”
The M&G has learned that a meeting recently convened by provincial chairpeople discussed an alleged plot to use the NGC to launch a campaign against Zuma’s bid for a second term. “They were told that this NGC was going to be a watershed, that Fikile Mbalula has made too much noise and it needs to be countered,” said a government source close to the ANC and its youth wing.
Zuma promised when he was elected ANC president in Polokwane that he would serve only one term, but has been convinced to seek another.
It is believed that not all provincial chairpeople bought the plan to help Zuma defuse tension. “Others were shocked and disturbed,” said the sources.
However, KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Zweli Mkhize and North West provincial coordinator Martin Sebakwane confirmed that a meeting took place, but denied that it was about discussing threats to Zuma’s position at the NGC.
“The president’s visits to provinces is about encouraging people to debate NGC documents,” said Mkhize.
Mkhize added that unlike the 2005 NGC, next month’s gathering will be held under “a much more relaxed atmosphere”, because there were no tensions in the ANC.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, said the president’s provincial visits had nothing to do with the NGC. “He will visit all provinces as part of the ANC’s Imvuselelo. The NEC decided that each member should recruit a minimum of 10 new members as part of the party’s drive to reach a million members by 2012.”
He said there was speculation that the ANC’s 2005 NGC would be disrupted, but that had not materialised. “What I see on the ground is unity. People are eagerly waiting for this political school.”
Both Cosatu and the ANC Youth League played a crucial role in propelling Zuma to power at the ANC’s 2007 conference in Polokwane. However, they are now at odds, with the league calling for its former president and now deputy police minister Fikile Mbalula to replace Mantashe as secretary general, while Cosatu wants Mantashe to retain his position.
Last week ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema hinted that the league was unlikely to support Zuma in a bid for a second term. Without mentioning names, he reportedly said the league needed radical leaders who would represent the poor.
“We don’t want a leadership that will reassure the queen [of England] that nothing will change. We want change,” Malema reportedly said.
Meanwhile, the M&G has learned that the Veterans’ League, a recently established organ of the ANC, also wants to use the NGC to voice its unhappiness about Zuma and the perceived damage he has inflicted on the ANC’s image.
The Veterans’ League is expected to formalise its approach at its NEC meeting in two weeks’ time.
An Eastern Cape leader told the M&G: “His relatives are getting money all the time through mining deals and other things. That is really worrying everyone.”
Though some veterans have considered a resolution calling on Zuma to step down, they were advised that this would not find favour with delegates because the NGC is not an elective conference.
Some leaders, however, felt that Zuma should be “called to order”, something they plan to do at the NGC. “We will call him aside and say: ‘Look buddy, we are not amused by these things.’ We will say to him we never heard anything like this about Mandela or Mbeki.”
Veterans’ League secretary general Matso Khumalo refused to comment.