With eight months left before the ANC’s elective conference, serious cracks have emerged in the governing party – with those who are seen to be against President Jacob Zuma, including a Cabinet minister, who escaped assassination attempts and others who received death threats.
Despite the party presenting a show of unity after its national working committee (NWC) meeting this week, the Mail & Guardian can reveal that:
- National executive committee (NEC) member and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, a potential candidate to succeed Zuma, has allegedly escaped two assassination attempts;
- ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and the party’s chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, were sent threatening messages and are being labelled CIA spies who are out to tarnish Zuma’s name; and
- Mthembu has been accused of conniving with opposition parties to plot a “coup” against Zuma on April 18, when the National Assembly is due to discuss a motion of no confidence against the president. A group within the party is pushing for Mthembu to be removed as ANC chief whip.
Sisulu has not criticised Zuma in public but ANC insiders say she is one of the few party leaders who is not afraid to take the president to task during internal meetings.
During the NWC meeting this week, she confronted the president about his decision to reshuffle the Cabinet, saying he could have waited a bit longer to allow ANC leaders and members to mourn the passing of struggle veteran and Rivonia triallist Ahmed Kathrada.
Those close to Sisulu say she is seen as a serious threat by supporters of former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. They want a woman to succeed Zuma as ANC president in December and the country in 2019.
“She [Sisulu] was advised by those in the security establishment about the [threatened] assassinations. She is aware of those and this is partly the reason why she is keeping a low profile when it comes to issues of succession,” said an ANC insider. The attempts were allegedly made in June and October last year.
Mantashe and Mthembu have also been critical of Zuma, most recently over his decision to reshuffle the Cabinet and specifically the removal of finance minister Pravin Gordhan based on a dubious intelligence report.
At the NWC meeting this week, Zuma apologised on behalf of the top six officials for creating an impression of disunity after they lashed out at each other in public.
Since he took over as ANC chief whip, Mthembu has become a thorn in the side of Zuma supporters. He initiated an inquiry into the SABC, which recommended that Zuma remove former communications minister (and now public service minister) Faith Muthambi.
“He [Mthembu] is been targeted for doing what is right for the ANC. Last year, we [the ANC caucus] held our midterm meeting and decided we should do what is right, and nothing that brings the ANC into disrepute or acts against the Constitution,” said an ANC MP who asked not to be named.
The MP said Mthembu has been receiving insulting SMSes and calls from people calling from private numbers.
“They [Mthembu’s opponents] say he is a CIA spy. [Mantashe] has also received similar SMSes that he is a CIA spy. Sometimes people call Mthembu and say: ‘We will deal with you. You are the enemy of the president and the revolution and we will deal with you,’” said the ANC MP.
The M&G understands that Mthembu was also attacked during this week’s NWC meeting, with ANC leaders sympathetic to Zuma saying his tweets complaining about Gordhan’s removal had not been good for the organisation.
His support for Gordhan when he was pursued by the Hawks has also not gone down well with Zuma supporters. “They want to remove him as chief whip. They want the ANC to relook into the whippery and the chairs. But the target is Mthembu,” said the ANC MP.
Under Mthembu, the ANC caucus has been described as being a centre of power in its own right.
“We became the centre by doing the right thing. We spoke openly about Nkandla. We have not become darlings of those who are close to Zuma ever since. Even the ANC deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, spoke out against the ANC caucus in Parliament. I think it is because we are doing what our people want us to do. We are expected to defend anything wrong.”
An ANC NEC member said that although Zuma had emerged from the NWC meeting unscathed, he expected his decision to reshuffle the Cabinet without consultation to be discussed in the next NEC meeting.
He said that although the party’s integrity committee withdrew its report recommending that Zuma should step down, it would compile a new one after meeting the president on April 9.
When Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa met the integrity committee before the NWC meeting, not all committee members had been aware of the report, prompting its withdrawal.
The NEC member said he was not happy with how the issue of Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle had been handled.
“The only thing that was dealt with there is the process, not the substantive issues facing the country.
“Their [the ANC top six officials’] complaint did not go into details. Even though the process followed became an issue, the officials themselves should have come with the substantive argument, to say: ‘We are captured by the Guptas.’
“The president was asked to brief the NWC on behalf of the top six. He apologised for the incoherent messages that came from all of them. But still, this did not deal with the deeper issues. People of South Africa think we are captured by the Guptas,” the NEC member added.
“The problem is that a lot of people in the NWC see themselves as his [Zuma’s] enforcer. The same people have previously attacked [Mantashe] and [Ramaphosa]. The same faction made the recall of Zuma last November to not be achievable.
“He [Zuma] sees himself as being above the ANC officials. ANC decisions are now taken somewhere [else]. That is the reality. How did we miss that?” the ANC NEC member asked.
Mthembu and Mantashe were not willing to comment on the threats they had allegedly received. Sisulu had not responded to queries by the time of publication.