The ANC’s top brass has met with its provincial chairpersons and secretaries to avoid a repeat of the KwaZulu-Natal conference where party president Cyril Ramaphosa was booed and heckled, insiders have told Mail & Guardian.
ANC leaders in the national executive committee (NEC) belonging to Ramaphosa’s faction are allegedly concerned that the president could be subjected to the same treatment when the party’s policy conference kicks off on Friday, 29 July.
It was allegedly agreed at the meeting that “ill-discipline” would be discouraged by provincial leaders, but M&G understands that delegates are still intent on singing Wenzeni u Zuma, a song that took centre stage at the KwaZulu-Natal conference in support of former president Jacob Zuma.
Zuma’s arrest and brief incarceration on contempt of court charges, and his being sidelined by the current administration, are among the reasons being used by some ANC members to further their own ambitions as the party prepares for its elective conference in December.
The insiders said that at the meeting – attended by leaders from KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and parts of the Eastern Cape and North West – lobbying also took place for the contentious step-aside rule to be amended.
A provincial leader who attended the meeting said there was “a strong view” that while the rule could not be defeated at the conference, delegates should call for its guidelines to be reversed this weekend.
The provincial leaders believe that the regulation is being applied selectively against critics of Ramaphosa and that the modification to apply it only to those who are charged before a court of law — as opposed to those facing corruption allegations — is a misinterpretation of what the delegates at the 54th national conference in 2017 intended when it was passed.
The guidelines helped seal the fate of many party leaders including Limpopo’s Danny Msiza, Mpumalanga’s Mandla Msibi, KwaZulu-Natal’s Zandile Gumede and secretary general Ace Magashule, who was later suspended after refusing to obey the rule.
The two provinces with the biggest delegations, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal, resolved to scrap and review the step-aside rule at their general councils that took place earlier this week. Mpumalanga – regarded as another power player – has also added its voice to calls for the rule to be reviewed.
The Eastern and Northern Cape regions have vowed to defend the rule at the policy conference.
The fight against step-aside will likely be ventilated at the party’s commission on organisational renewal, which many party leaders have expressed keen interest in attending.
Should the guidelines be reviewed, Magashule and others would be entitled to participate in ANC events and take part in the December contest.
In October 2020, Magashule was arrested and charged with 21 counts — later increased to 74 — of corruption, money laundering and fraud relating to the now infamous asbestos project during his time as Free State premier.
He was expected to step aside but insisted that the party’s branches should decide his fate.
It was in that same month that the ANC’s top six sought legal advice from five advocates — among them former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, and Dali Mpofu and Gcina Malindi — on the legality of the resolution.
All decided that the step-aside rule could be seen as infringing on the constitutional rights of members and could be challenged in the courts.
In December 2020, the NEC moved the goalpost a little further. The party directed its top six to seek party elders — former president Kgalema Motlanthe and Phosa — to develop guidelines to make the regulation easier to implement for the faction-riven NEC. The two veterans had six weeks to produce and present the document.
The guidelines were presented in the February NEC meeting and allowed for stepping aside after indictment on criminal charges; temporary suspension after indictment on criminal charges; temporary suspension pending ANC disciplinary processes after indictment on criminal charges, and dealing with allegations of corruption or serious crime.
They added that the decision to step aside must be reviewed periodically by the NEC, the national working committee, the provincial executive committee or the provincial working committee at least once a year, or from time to time at the request of the member, office-bearer or a public representative.
Shortly after Gumede was reelected as eThekwini chairman and Msibi as the provincial treasurer in Mpumalanga, the step-aside guidelines were again modified, stating that those affected could not stand for party positions.