An internal ANC survey showing deepening divisions within the party’s national executive committee (NEC) is among the reasons behind the decision to force President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC secretary general (SG) Ace Magashule to come out in public and project unity.
Relations between the two leaders are understood to have hit rock bottom, with ANC insiders telling the Mail & Guardian this week that they are no longer on good terms.
They claim Magashule ignored Ramaphosa’s calls when the president tried to reach him from New York, where he was attending the UN general assembly last month.
The insiders say the president wanted to talk to Magashule about convening a top-six meeting to discuss the alleged plot to remove him before the matter was discussed by the national working committee (NWC) and the NEC last Friday.
“The president tried several times to call him [Magashule] but he did not answer. When he [Ramaphosa] realised the SG was not returning his calls, he called Jessie Duarte [the ANC deputy secretary general] to ask her to organise the top-six meeting,” said an ANC insider, who asked to remain anonymous.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe denied that Magashule was not on good terms with Ramaphosa said the two were working well together.
“The secretary general is always available to talk to the president. The president is equally available to talk to the secretary general. Any other thing is nothing but an attempt to drive a wedge. From where we are sitting, officials are united and are working together,” said Mabe.
ANC head of presidency Zizi Kodwa said he was not aware of any tension between Ramaphosa and Magashule. “They are on speaking terms, they sit in the same meetings, they sit [at]the same top table. […] They sit in the same NWC, they sit in the same NEC. So I think whoever is spreading that is doing the work of wedge drivers. It’s nothing else but wedge drivers,” said Kodwa.
According to ANC insiders, Ramaphosa became worried after Magashule hit back at him after the president indirectly criticised him for allegedly plotting, along with former president Jacob Zuma, to remove him as president.
Speaking during Cosatu’s national congress last month, Ramaphosa called those who “meet in dark corners” and plot to divide the ANC “counter-revolutionaries”. This was seen as a veiled attack on Magashule after the Sunday Times reported that the ANC secretary general secretly met Zuma in Durban to plot the removal of Ramaphosa.
Addressing the Congress of South African Students in Bloemfontein last week, Magashule hit back at Ramaphosa, saying: “There are people who are products of the white man in the ANC. I am a product of the masses of our people. I am not made by the white man. I’ll never attack a leader of the ANC in public.”
He again denied that the meeting was evidence of any plot.“There is no time to plot against the leadership of the organisation but there is also no leadership of the ANC which I am part of that is going to stop me and many others from meeting president Zuma,” said Magashule.
The M&G understand a number of NEC members disapproved of both leaders’ behaviour in the spat. ANC leaders were particularly concerned that any sign of division could compromise the party’s performance during next year’s elections.
Insiders said divisions within the party were deepening. “An internal survey says 50% of the ANC NEC is divided. It found that the hardcore [members] say they don’t know how to vote during next year’s elections. If your own survey says you are divided […] it’s cause for concern,” said the member. ANC insiders told the M&G that the public statements made by Ramaphosa at Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s memorial lecture and Magashule during a media briefing on Monday that they were working well together were as a result of their being called to order by the NEC.
Another NEC member at the meeting said: “In the same NEC, we did acknowledge that the manner in which the president came about at the Cosatu congress and the subsequent manner in which the SG responded, both of these incidences were unfortunate. We felt this is the hatchet we needed to bury so that we move forward …That’s why the message that we came out pronouncing after the NEC has been one that sought to speak to our own unity.”
ANC NEC member Mduduzi Manana is said to have openly criticised Ramaphosa during the meeting, saying the ANC president did not helpthe situation by attacking Magashule in public after the Sunday Times report.
“He [Manana] told him directly that what he [Ramaphosa] did was wrong,” said another NEC member, who agreed that the president was not assisting the project of unity by attacking Magashule in public.
“You can’t go to Cosatu and lambast your own. Why did he not raise it with Magashule internally when he explained himself to the top-six meeting in Cape Town recently? He [Manana] said the SG was correct to go out to defend himself,” said the NEC member.
A third NEC member said Manana’s view was echoedby the NEC in broad terms.“It [the issue of the plot] was raised by more than three people in a balanced way that even the SG was not right [to hit back at Ramaphosa]. Comrade Joel Netshitenzhe raised the fact that […] we also need to make sure that we don’t further fuel divisions. There was a balance view. There was a clear rebuttal across the board.”