The ANC is a house divided as it celebrates its 105th anniversary.
This was all too evident this week as the party prepared for its birthday bash, to be held at Orlando Stadium in Soweto today.
Despite the party trying hard to present a united front, tensions between different factions reached fever pitch, with President Jacob Zuma’s supporters accusing Gauteng province of not doing enough to make the event a success.
Zuma’s supporters, who see Gauteng as rebellious, believe the province’s leadership want to humiliate Zuma by having him speak to a half-empty stadium. These accusations have been angrily rejected by Gauteng’s leaders.
The Gauteng provincial executive committee is the only ANC structure that has openly broken ranks by refusing to declare unwavering allegiance to Zuma.
The anniversary rally is the highlight of the ANC’s annual calendar, and provinces take turns to host it.
It is where the president of the party reads out the January 8 Statement, in which the ANC’s vision and priorities for the year are announced.
This year’s proclamation takes place against the backdrop of a bitter internal rift, at the start of what is set to be a divisive elective conference year.
Besides these clashes over the organisation of the event, party leaders have also been openly at odds with each other about the state of the party and the country.
While Zuma painted a glowing picture of the state of affairs this week, others – including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa – warned that rampant corruption and factionalism would kill the ANC.
National executive committee (NEC) member Naledi Pandor encouraged ANC members to “rescue the ANC” and “speak up when wrong things happen in the organisation”.
An NEC member sympathetic to Zuma told City Press that neighbouring provinces had been roped in to counter the “laziness” of the Gauteng ANC.
“We saw that these guys here are lazy and do not want to campaign. But they will never [get it] right because there are too many provinces coming in to campaign and do door-to-door [mobilisation],” he said.
He said one of the reasons the Gauteng ANC was lackadaisical was because it initially did not want to host the event, citing cost issues.
A Luthuli House insider said national structures had also taken charge of the pre-rally activities, held at Soweto’s iconic Vilakazi Street on Friday, as well as the fundraising gala dinner held in Sandton last night.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula – who is also an NEC member and the ANC’s head of campaigns – even roped in his former personal assistant to help out.
Gauteng’s ANC chair, Paul Mashatile, rebuffed the accusations that Gauteng was not cooperating, saying the provincial team had done everything it could to ensure the stadium was filled to capacity.
He said 800 buses had been secured to transport people from all over Gauteng and was confident the province could fill the 40 000-seater stadium.
He said leaders and activists had even forsaken their festive season holidays and were working hand in hand with Mbalula to promote the event.
More than 20 000 posters had gone up and more than 100 000 flyers had been distributed.
“Before Christmas we made sure that everything was in place ... Every branch will have a bus,” said Mashatile.
But a Tshwane leader expressed doubt, saying the party was in the dark about transport arrangements.
Regarding accusations that Gauteng was reluctant to host the event, Mashatile said the decision to host the bash in the province was made in late November because there had been a proposal to host smaller events in different areas on different dates, rather than one big national rally.
He said the Gauteng ANC had then expressed concern that in December the province was always “the land of migrants” since many leaders and ground-level activists went away on holiday at that time.
He admitted to budgetary issues being an added concern. “We were overstretched, coming from an election campaign.”
Because of a fear of failure, provincial ANC branches – including Mpumalanga, North West, Free State and Limpopo – were also bussing in thousands of people.
The chairpersons of the respective provinces said this week that they were transporting members because January 8 was a national event.
A regional Johannesburg ANC leader said grass roots structures were still reeling from the shock of the party’s performance in last year’s local government elections.
He said Gauteng’s leaders were being “isolated because people do not trust them”.
The conflicts that spilt into the open last year re-emerged this week as ANC leaders crisscrossed the province in efforts to drum up support for the rally.
Zuma, who puzzled organisers by opting to remain in his hometown of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal instead of lobbying for support in Gauteng, used his first campaign appearance on Friday to rebut his opponents. He singled out Andrew Mlangeni and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela as “real veterans” in reference to party stalwarts who had signed an open letter last year challenging his leadership.
Besides the Friday event and attending an NEC meeting on Thursday, Zuma was conspicuously absent from the traditional week-long mobilisation campaign.
The NEC meeting even had to be pushed back by a day to accommodate his late return from Nkandla.
In apparent defence of his leadership, an ebullient Zuma told the Vilakazi Street crowd that the ANC had faced crises before, even going back to the days of founding president John Langalibalele Dube.
“The organisation has faced challenges, and at times people said it was dying ... But the ANC will never die, because it is the party of the people,” said Zuma in a speech delivered mainly in isiZulu.
Repeating his religious mantra that the ANC would rule until Jesus Christ returned, Zuma said the party was close to God because it had priests among its co-founders.
He said the party would “live forever” and was respected on the continent and globally.
“There has never been a time when the ANC was not called names, but it stood firm. Even today they still call it names. Those who write will write until the ink runs dry.”
Encouraging loyalty, Zuma said:
“When a bus breaks down in the middle of the road, people do not get off the bus and walk to their final destinations. They wait until the problem is fixed and get back on the road once more.”
Zuma’s blasé message was in stark contrast with that of his fellow leaders on the mobilisation trail this week, who all warned against corruption and urged that the party get back on track.
At the 22nd commemoration event marking former SA Communist Party leader Joe Slovo’s death on Friday, Pandor called on ANC members to use their power to reclaim the party.
“The power is in your hands, so use that power to rescue the ANC. Use your power to bring the ANC back to the people.”
Pandor said ordinary members had “given too much power to leaders, and that is why they think you are for sale”, adding that the ANC deserved “leaders of integrity, who will not be corrupt, who are tried and tested, and made a solid contribution to our country and the building of this democracy”.
“We do not want corruption and people using public resources for their pockets. We do not want leaders who take us for granted.”
She went on to say ANC members knew those who were corrupt, “because they come to you with bags of money”.
“Let us expose them,” she urged.
Ramaphosa said ANC members needed to act to stop people who bought votes for leadership posts.
“Our movement is riddled with factions – and even leaders are leaders of factions,” he said.
He added that leaders must not serve their own personal interests or those of their friends and families.
“The issue of dealing with corruption should be tackled in a very proactive manner. We are going to make sure that lifestyle audits happen. And they must not only happen to just general members. They must happen at the leadership level, right at the top.
“Because it is when we implement such a decision [that] we will be able to begin the process of dealing a devastating blow against corruption,” said Ramaphosa.
In a sign of concern about how Zuma will be received at the rally, City Press understands that members of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association will be on hand to “defend” Zuma at the rally.
Meanwhile, ANC leaders downplayed fears that this weekend’s heavy rains in Gauteng would keep supporters away or disrupt the rally.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said the party had “expected adverse weather conditions”, while Mbalula said that measures were being taken “to ensure that we mitigate against the impact of this on the rally”.