The first salvo in the ANC succession battle was fired against Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale on Tuesday during opening proceedings of the ANC policy conference in Midrand.
In the clearest sign yet that his moves towards the ANC presidency will be challenged, Sexwale was strongly rebuked for attempting to discuss the rules of engagement during the four-day meeting.
Soon after President Jacob Zuma finished his opening address – which culminated in the singing of ‘Mshini ‘Wami, Sexwale proposed to the over 3 000-strong delegation that “derogatory” songs should not be sung.
“I feel so small to speak after the president, but comrades, I propose we should not sing songs about people. People should not even sing songs about me,’ he said.
But he was quickly shouted down by delegates who called for an immediate point of order.
“Comrade Tokyo is on the [national executive committee], which agreed to the rules on engagement at this conference. He is therefore out of order to be bringing this up now,” a disgruntled Limpopo delegate said.
The point of order was sustained by ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete and Sexwale was ordered back to his seat.
The bigger picture
While the instance could be interpreted as minor political squabbling, it should be seen within the greater context of Sexwale’s covert manoeuvring to be nominated for the ANC presidency in Mangaung.
By taking to the stage so soon after Zuma finished speaking, Sexwale attempted to position himself as leadership material.
For Zuma himself the opening day of the policy conference was a success, which could help him in his attempts to retain his position as ruling party president.
If he wasn’t being hailed in song by his supporters, he was using the conference as a platform to indicate his vision for the ANC going forward.
“Comrades, we must use this policy conference to debate all of the issues affecting us. We need radical change, I am calling on delegates to discuss radical options to fix our society,” he said.
At a press conference later on Tuesday afternoon, Zuma even brushed aside thoughts that the success of the controversial second transition policy document at the conference would be an indication of his support base.
“When you see a document like the second transition you must know it has been through the ANC already. All I have done is sharpen the debate on the second transition document. As a president I can’t accept how some people are living in South Africa. Things need to change,” he said.