President Jacob Zuma stunned ANC deputy president hopeful Zweli Mkhize when he made a surprise arrival at the event where Mkhize would have looked to launch himself in the run-up to this year’s elective conference.
Mkhize – currently ANC treasurer general – was the official deployed to address the KwaZulu-Natal birthday celebration of the ANC at Kwadukuza yesterday, but the address of provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala was interrupted by the shock arrival of Zuma.
Mkhize, who is believed to be gunning for the position of deputy president when the ANC heads to its 54th national conference in December, was visibly surprised and struggled to compose himself during his address.
The celebration was thought to be a good occasion for Mkhize to display just how presidential he can be.
Former allies, Mkhize and Zuma are believed to now be on opposing sides as the race to elect a new top six for the ANC heats up.
KZN is a crucial province at the conference as it brings with it a large number of delegates, but it is also home to both Mkhize and Zuma.
Upon the president’s arrival it was decided that Mkhize would still give his address with Zuma offering a “greeting”.
But it was the embattled president who had the last word as he spoke and offered more than the promised greeting.
Zuma said he was in the province because of a family death. As a result of the family matter he was not able to go where he had been deployed to – he did not say where this was.
He then thought to come through and listen to leaders of the ANC speak because “we believe in this thing that is called collective leadership”.
Mkhize struggled through his speech but was able to fire a veiled warning to the ANC Youth League when he warned young people not to allow themselves to be recruited into factions.
“When we go to the next conference there is no faction that can win in the conference and then win the elections for the ANC. The conference must be won by the ANC and therefore as young people you must refuse to be drawn into factionalism. Each time when we tell you something you must ask us how is that going to help the organisation and you must never agree to be recruited into factions,” Mkhize said.
The youth league has been closely linked to the so-called “premier league” faction of the ANC and has been leading the campaign for outgoing African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed Zuma. Mkhize himself was once closely aligned with the premier league.
The youth league in KZN was the first to officially endorse Dlamini-Zuma.
“You don’t have any baggage so you must stick to the policies of the ANC and make it strong and unite the ANC because you want to inherit the ANC while it is still in charge of the country. You don’t want to inherit the ANC that has lost elections and therefore the message from our president and the NEC is that we depend on you as young people,” Mkhize said.
“We hope and trust that you will rise to the occasion of taking over the leadership of this organisation in the way that president Oliver Tambo did. He started when he was young as you; you in future will be the ones who are leading the country and the ANC. For sure you want it strong, united, effective and in charge of South Africa, with you having earned that leadership.”
The event was attended by thousands of supporters who braved scorching temperatures and humidity. A number of NEC members were also present, including Lindiwe Zulu, Nomvula Mokonyane, Nathi Mthethwa, Bheki Cele, Malusi Gigaba as well as Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini.