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Zuma hits back at veterans: They think the branches are riff raff

President Jacob Zuma has hit back at ANC veterans who called for a consultative conference of the party and his removal as head of state, saying they think they are better than the movement’s branches and are operating as an almost independent organisation.

In what appeared to be a well-timed political move to score support from delegates, Zuma launched the attack on the veterans council during his opening address of the ANC’s policy conference, starting in Soweto on Friday.

In April this year a letter signed by 101 veterans of the ANC was sent to the party’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, requesting that it convene a consultative conference to address the crisis the party finds itself in.

In response, the ANC agreed to use the first two days of the policy conference to consult with veterans and other members of the party about its health.

But the veterans refused to part-take in the two-day discussions and said they do not want a consultative conference that is linked to the policy conference. This is because they wanted a conference where they can discuss the party’s problems and take resolutions to solve them, then move forward.

They wanted the debate on the crisis in the ANC to take place without the branches, which the veterans said are “of poor quality”.

Zuma used that assessment by the veterans to his advantage in his hour-long opening address.

“The branches, they think is just riff raff. They want the discussion to be on a high level,” he told delegates.

The ANC president lamented the veterans council for rejecting the ANC’s proposal to discuss the health of the ANC in the two days before the policy discussions at this week’s gathering.

“They decided, [the two days at policy conference] is not what they want, they want their own [conference]. It’s like a real organisation and I’m sure they must be having an office … In fact, most of the time they communicate with us through the media. They said to SGO [secretary general’s office], they don’t think the quality of the discussion is okay,” Zuma said.

Zuma broke his silence on the criticism from the veterans after months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with senior ANC officials. He said he kept quiet out of loyalty to the party’s values.

“Many of us have controlled ourselves not to respond to these comrades, some of them are not as strong as they project themselves. But because we are keeping to the discipline of the party, we are keeping quiet,” Zuma concluded.

Some members of the ANC’s national executive committee were unhappy about Zuma’s remarks, a deviation from the prepared speech, which stressed calls for unity.

The president concluded his address by singing three songs, but this time received a muted response from the over 3 000 delegates in attendance. Mostly delegates from KwaZulu-Natal and Free State sang songs in support of the president.

Zuma’s speech, similarly, had a watered down reception in the main plenary.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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