The war between those aligned to ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and party treasurer-general Paul Mashatile has intensified in the build-up to the ANC’s policy conference, with alleged political plotting by Mashatile being scuppered at the ANC KZN conference over the weekend.
Those linked to Ramaphosa are believed to have suspected that Mashatile and his allies leveraged the frustration of provincial delegates who had displayed disdain for the party leader during the first days of the conference.
The Mail & Guardian has it on good authority that Ramaphosa’s allies, known as the Chris Hani cabal, went to great lengths to convince Ramaphosa to make an appearance at the provincial conference, which he eventually did late on Sunday.
The cabal, which consists of party chair Gwede Mantashe, Eastern Cape provincial chair Oscar Mabuyane, finance minister and NEC member Enoch Godongwana, as well as minister in the presidency Mondli Gungubele, is said to have convinced Ramaphosa to make an appearance, believing that Mashatile and his faction were using the attitude of KZN members to promote their own interests.
Hailing from the Eastern Cape, the four ANC leaders are believed to be a core constituent of the Ramaphosa faction. They have been adept at fending off detractors of the president.
It all started on Friday 22 July, the first day of the conference, when over half of the 1607 delegates started to sing Wenzeni uZuma (what has Zuma done?), a song known to evoke emotion and support for former president Jacob Zuma among his base.
The song was belted out by delegates as Mashatile made his way to the podium to deliver his opening address.
Party insiders said this was the first sign that Ramaphosa, who has been painted as the figure responsible for Zuma’s downfall, would not enjoy a warm welcome when he arrived to make closing remarks at the conference.
While the conference experienced relatively little drama, Zuma’s ghost reverberated as the delegates made their frustrations over the ANC’s handling of the former statesman’s incarceration and other legal woes known via the song.
Insiders with close links to the Chris Hani cabal said it was then that Mashatile and some NEC members in attendance advised Ramaphosa that it would not be in his best interests to attend. This after Mashatile had confirmed to the media that Ramaphosa would be closing the conference.
“Paul knew exactly what he was doing when he made that announcement and he knew what he was doing the days after,” one party leader told M&G.
According to the insider, what raised the suspicions of the four Eastern Cape leaders was Mashatile’s sudden backtrack at a media briefing on Saturday when he said that he would wait for the presidency to indicate whether Ramaphosa would make an appearance.
The insider said that Mashatile and NEC convenor in the province, Nocawe Mafu, advised Ramaphosa not to attend, saying that the delegates would be hostile to him after those linked to Zweli Mkhize had emerged in the provincial leadership.
While Ramaphosa took this advice at first, insiders said that he later consulted with the four NEC members who insisted that he appear even if he was heckled and booed by delegates.
Ramaphosa made a congratulatory phone call to the newly elected provincial chair, Siboniso Duma, and also informed him that he would not attend. The insiders said that no immediate danger to the president had been detected by state security.
“There was a fight [on Sunday] with Mafu and Mashatile saying he should not come and the Chris Hani cabal saying that if he doesn’t come it would be suicidal for him. The cabal knew what was at play. They knew that optics matter and if he doesn’t come it will look like the president has abandoned the province and cowered to the likes of Carl Niehaus,” one insider said.
Another NEC member believed that Mashatile was using the emotions of the KZN delegates to throw Ramaphosa under the bus. The NEC member said Mantashe and Godongwana had resolved to come to the conference with Ramaphosa but could not get flights to Durban. Gungubele accompanied the president.
Ramaphosa was greeted with heckling and boos as he stepped out of his vehicle. This continued inside the venue as KZN delegates continued to sing Wenzeni uZuma. Duma tried to contain the relentless crowd, which at one moment started chanting “Ace” in support of suspended ANC secretary general Ace Magashule.
It was only when Duma sang Zuma’s praises and called for Ramaphosa to consider the judiciary as having used its powers to unjustly jail the former president that the delegates started to calm down.
As Ramaphosa took to the podium, delegates then started to applaud.
The battle between the two factions is expected to play out at the national policy conference this weekend.
Mashatile, who is said to be angling for the ANC deputy president position, has been accused of using his newfound role as acting secretary general to win favour with some regions.
The Chris Hani cabal and those linked to Mashatile also locked horns at the Eastern Cape provincial conference. Mabuyane, with the support of his allies, won the conference against Babalo Madikizela, who is linked to Mashatile.
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