A firm Baleka Mbete took to the podium to remind delegates that no one was more important than the ANC.
“Let us be united in our understanding that none of us are more important than the ANC,” she said.
Mbete said there would be a time and a place for delegates to express their differences, when they vote in new leaders on Friday evening.
“Yes, we will express different opinions but that does not make us enemies. We will not be enemies when we are cadres of the ANC,” she said.
The mood was tangibly divisive on Friday morning when the conference began late.
Derogotary songs filled the air sung by supporters of both Senzo Mchunu and Sihle Zikalala.
Mchunu, the incumbent chairperson, is defending his position against provincial secretary Zikalala.
Signs of two fingers, symbolising a support for Mchunu’s second term as chair was met with a motion hand symbol signifying a call for change- to elect Zikalala.
But when the official proceedings eventually kicked off there seemed to be a clarion call for unity amid a stark fight for power in the most influential province of the ANC.
Willies Mchunu, deputy provincial chairperson and the programme director of the conference, reminded delegates that derogatory signs and symbols would create scars that “could take time to heal”.
“Everyone is interested in our unity and we seem not to be interested in our unity,” he said as representatives from Cosatu as well as the SACP spoke about the need for unity.
In delivering his political report to the conference, Mchunu spoke about the need to eradicate the tendency of manipulation of individuals, systems and procedures within the party.
This, he said, was done from branch level right up to officials of the ANC who try to manufacture pre-determined results in the run up to elective conferences.
“This tendency, in particular, is sadly sponsored and powered by people coming from upper structures,” Mchunu said.
Mchunu supporters had accused Zikalala of manipulating processes to succeed in his bid to become chairperson.
Zikalala has also been linked to the so-called premier league – a group of three influential ANC chairpersons who are premiers of their provinces – who have been accused of influencing the outcome of the ANC Youth League conference and the ANC Women’s League.
Zikalala has always denied these accusations.
Mchunu called for democracy to thrive at branch level.
“Let there be no henchmen or henchwomen who impose their will on branches,” he said.
The situation in the run up to the conference was so grave and Mchunu described a situation where violence, threats and brazen use of force was used on other ANC members who are deemed to be in an opposing faction.
“The third category of negative tendencies is the emergence of hatred among comrades simply because of differing views,” Mchunu said.
All speakers at the conference expressed hope that the it would bring some stability within the provincial arm of the ANC.
Before the official start of the programme, Mbete together with provincial and national ANC leaders lit a candle symbolically calling for hope in the party.
Elections of leaders is likely to take place on Friday evening while President Jacob Zuma is also scheduled to address the conference.