Unity up in smoke as ANC's top six fail to fool

It was an orchestrated smokescreen devised to dispel the perception that the ANC’s top six is gravely divided. But the party leaders’ public relations stunt on Tuesday, intended to portray a united front, failed dismally.

Instead, the poor performance by the leaders of the 100-year-old liberation movement only confirmed the serious divisions within the party, showing that tensions on the road to the elective conference in Mangaung in December are indeed on the boil.

Temperatures rising
“We can also feel the heat,” said ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu ahead of the briefing, referring blithely to the temperature in the room as he promised journalists cramped into the stuffy foyer of Luthuli House that the ANC’s top six would be arriving shortly.

But the only thing the party leaders achieved during their joint press briefing was to prove that the crisis in the party was much more serious than the public had been led to believe. -->President Jacob Zuma arrived at the briefing soon enough, joined by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Thandi Modise, treasurer general Mathews Phosa and party chair Baleka Mbete.

The event was staged ostensibly to address “some incidents that have occurred in recent times, which may be causing confusion within the ANC and public at large”, and to show how unified the party’s leadership remains in the face of a public onslaught against Zuma by the ANC’s youth league leaders, led by their president Julius Malema, who have been pursuing a campaign to replace him with Motlanthe, and who have the private backing of Zuma’s detractors within the mother body.

But the briefing only served to lay bare the fault lines between the leaders: Zuma, Mantashe and Mbete on one side; Motlanthe, Phosa and Modise on the other.

Youth league ‘rude, crude and un-ANC’
Mantashe opened proceedings by saying that unfavourable comments and actions by leaders of the ANC and its youth league recently were “in their content and spirit an attempt to create the perception in the public discourse that the national officials of the ANC are at odds with each other and divided over a whole range of issues”.

In the three page statement Mantashe was at pains to convince the public that the core of the ANC was still intact.

He said the “perception” of divisions within the top six was a result of the rude, crude and un-ANC behaviour of the youth league, the poor judgment of ANC leaders who failed to publically reprimand Malema and his colleagues for disrespecting the leadership and not because the leaders of the mother body had themselves failed to keep their house in order.

“The brazen and often rude and crude rhetoric to detract from real issues facing our youth has done nothing to add value to the integrity of the ANC and its leagues — the ANC discourages the elevation of individuals and personalities above the organisation, this inevitably leads to the creation of personality cults which hampers collective decision making,” said Mantashe.

He rebuked the youth league leaders for responding “in kind” to remarks against Malema, referring perhaps to the league’s reaction to a press conference called earlier on Tuesday by the ANC’s Umkhonto WeSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA). At that briefing, MK chair Kebby Maphatsoe urged the ANC to expel Malema “with militancy”. Immediately afterwards, the youth league’s secretary general Sindiso Magaqa convened a briefing to defend Malema—and heap scorn upon the MKMVA, which he said “just want to be on TV”.

Salt on the wound
But then Mantashe singled out Motlanthe and Phosa, who both shared a stage with Malema recently, for not reprimanding the young lion for making divisive comments in public. Motlanthe appeared with a defiant Malema at an ANCYL centenary rally near Tzaneen on March 25, and Phosa joined the fiery youth league president at a lecture at Wits University on Friday, where Malema called Zuma a dictator.

In a sideswipe against Mantashe’s rebuke against him for not reprimanding Malema—which further indicated that not all of the top six leaders was on board with the decision to hold the special press briefing—Phosa told the briefing on Tuesday that he had not called Malema to order on Friday night because, “It’s a very easy answer, I didn’t want to respond in kind”.

Phosa said that he had wanted “to say to leaders that we shall not engage in public spats”.

But in their doomed effort to save face, that was exactly what the top six did on Tuesday, showing that even a pretense at unity is beyond the ability of the party’s leadership right now, and that—as Mangaung looms ever closer on the political horizon (and as their spokesperson Mthembu unwittingly remarked earlier)—they are indeed feeling the heat.

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