“No ANC leader is going to lead the organisation for life. It’s five years only.”
So said ANC Gauteng chairman and Minister of Arts and Culture Paul Mashatile in Midrand during a gala dinner hosted by the Liliesleaf Farm ANC branch on Saturday.
He made the comments while various ANC branches are locked in debate on whether to retain ANC president Jacob Zuma for a second term or replace him with his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.
The name of Human Settlements Minister and ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Tokyo Sexwale was also bandied about.
Without referring to Zuma by name, Mashatile said there must be an assessment after a couple of years, adding: “It was not a given that you will be re-elected.”
He is believed to be in the camp known as Anyone But Zuma (ABZ), a group touting Motlanthe as Zuma’s possible challenger. Mashatile has been touted as party chairman. But Mashatile denied this during his address.
“Our interest is not with an individual. People say Paul is in favour of Tokyo for president, others say I’m in favour of Kgalema for president. We are ANC people,” he said to rapturous applause.
Mashatile’s comments were confirmed by Sexwale, who said: “Indeed, we were elected for five years.”
Sexwale also addressed the gala dinner, which turned into a campaign for the ABZ camp.
The ANC is officially opening the succession debate in October. But Sexwale and Mashatile openly spoke about Mangaung and ANC unity.
Sexwale was invited to be the main speaker after attempts to get Motlanthe were unsuccessful.
“There is not one person who is not going to be assessed. All 86 NEC members are up for assessment,” Sexwale said.
He said his term as an NEC member was coming to an end within the next three months.
“No one is assured of any place. If people decide to renew it, that’s a different story.”
A guest whispered: “You are safe, mtshana [Tokyo].”
Guests rose to their feet when Sexwale sang “ANC iyasetshenzelwa”, which could be interpreted to mean “you work hard to lead the ANC”.
A branch member, who asked not to be named, said he was caught off-guard when Mashatile started raising leadership issues. Other branch members were also shocked and were complaining among themselves about the raising of Mangaung issues.
“When you are [an invited speaker], you don’t raise controversial things like that. He was supposed to talk about the centenary celebrations. We were all shocked,” he said.
The event was attended by the political elite, including former National Prosecuting Authority boss Vusi Pikoli and its current boss, Menzi Simelane, who is currently on special leave.
Guests forked out R5,000 a table to attend the dinner, ostensibly to celebrate the ANC’s centenary and which branch members dedicated to the 49th anniversary of the Rivonia Trial.
Simultaneously, the dinner comes as Zuma’s re-election chances were dealt a potentially heavy blow on Sunday when a faction aligned to him was defeated at the ANC’s hotly contested OR Tambo regional conference in Mthatha, Eastern Cape.
Events at Marikana, North West, cast a long shadow over the conference.
The region is home to many migrant mineworkers, including employees of Lonmin, owners of the platinum mine where 34 men were massacred and 80 injured by police gunfire.
Thandekile Sabisa, who is aligned to a group dubbed the “forces of change” and the Anyone But Zuma camp, defeated his pro-Zuma opponent, William Ngozi, by six votes.
Anti-Zuma songs were sung outside the conference venue at Khanyisa High School in Mthatha, where Sabisa received 294 votes compared with Ngozi’s 288.
The OR Tambo region is the largest in the Eastern Cape and the second largest in the country, after eThekwini in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Voting took place two weeks after the initial regional conference was “adjourned”.