A fight regarding memorial services for ANC stalwart Andrew Mlangeni has erupted due to the prominent role played by former president Jacob Zuma after the ANC proceeded to include him in the build-up programme, despite objections from Mlangeni’s family.
City Press has learnt that there was initially no objection from the Mlangeni family or the June and Andrew Mlangeni Foundation during a virtual meeting with national leaders on Thursday, when Zuma’s name, together with those of his presidential predecessors Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, was mentioned as one of the prospective speakers who would reflect on Mlangeni’s life.
Present in the meeting were ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, chairperson of the foundation Dr Hlengiwe Mkhize and Mlangeni’s son, Sello.
However, just before midday on Friday, the ANC memorial service preparations task team heard that, following consultations, the family no longer wanted Zuma – who has been dogged by allegations of corruption throughout his two terms as head of state between 2009 and 2018 – to continue with the planned virtual presentation.
In addition, the family also preferred that, during the memorial service today, Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu should be brought in as the programme director; while Motlanthe would become the keynote speaker; and both Mbeki and Zuma could be excused.
The family also wanted a younger ANC leader such as Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula to be given a chance to speak as a way to promote generational dialogue.
However, the ANC concluded that it would be disrespectful to cancel Zuma at the last minute as he had already agreed to avail himself for the “virtual reflections” session, so it forged ahead with the event.
The ANC’s programme drew the ire of some of the party’s other stalwarts and veterans, who argued that allegations of corruption against Zuma made it unsuitable for him to speak about Mlangeni – who had in the past been critical of Zuma’s alleged conduct.
Recently, Mlangeni was recorded in a video interview saying: “Zuma has messed up the country. He has stolen everything. We put him there with hope, but look what he has done with the Guptas.”
Speaking for both the family and the foundation, Mkhize yesterday confirmed having discussions with the ANC on Thursday, saying the spirit of the talks was for the party’s plans to be outlined so that the family could then reflect and give input.
Mkhize said the ANC had said that, traditionally in the party, “the memorial service should be acceptable to the family because we are doing it in honour of a family member”.
She said discussions also focused on the time that would be allocated at the memorial service for elected leaders of the ANC’s leagues and alliance partners to give their tributes.
She said the proposal for the “virtual reflections” was a separate discussion from that of the memorial service.
“When it comes to reflections, they said they would ask different people to reflect on the life and times of Ntate Mlangeni. So the reflections are really outside the memorial. The foundation had also asked people to reflect, so we listened and thought that it is a side issue, let us focus on the memorial service.”
She continued: “We went back to the family and had a discussion because we wanted to go back to the ANC in terms of the acceptability of the memorial service and the expression of the wishes of the family.”
After Zuma’s programme was publicised, the foundation received calls from people who were unhappy with him being the headliner, which Mkhize had to deal with.
“Ntate Mlangeni’s stance was different from other people, who would say so and so is beginning to be my enemy. He was critical of certain things, but he did not completely condemn people to say that, next to me, I do not want so and so.”
She said other stalwarts who knew Mlangeni would testify that he did not want to use any weakness in the ANC to posture.
“He would be the first one to emphasise the importance of unity within the ANC.
“He would encourage anything that would promote unity within the ANC because he also cherished that a lot,” she said.
Mkhize added that, for the ANC’s objectives to be realised, the party could not afford to be divided.
“So that is the dilemma we all had – that as much as we know he was critical of certain things, he was not the kind of person who would take it to a point where he would say: ‘I do not want to see so and so attending any event in honour of my name.’”
She said the final position of the foundation and the family was to say the reflections programme was “a side issue that we must not get involved in”.
“We are talking about something painful because these people were comrades and there are no easy solutions when it comes to the issue that this one does not want this one, or this one must not come.”
An ANC national executive committee (NEC) member told City Press that the Mlangeni family had been lobbied by NEC members who had their own misgivings about Zuma.
“They wanted to argue that Zuma does not represent the values that Mlangeni stood for as chair of the integrity commission and as an ANC veteran and stalwart.
“Our own comrades tried to sell the story to the family, and that is why the family ultimately reneged and said they cannot be used as a source of division.”
The NEC member added: “The family said they cannot be co-opted into factional divisions.
“It was some NEC members who were trying their luck and they wanted the family to disown the event, but the family never did it. We do not want people in the ANC to go and abuse their proximity to families.
“Things like this compromise the good name of the ANC. The view of not wanting JZ to speak is not a family view, but a view of some NEC members. If the family had preferred Zuma not to speak, they would have raised it in the virtual meeting with the ANC.”
In a letter to Luthuli House on Friday, the ANC’s stalwarts and veterans said Zuma was unsuitable for the role that he had been given by the party, citing his “constitutionally improper conduct during his tenure as president of the ANC, as well as of the raft of very serious charges of corruption for which he is to stand trial, not to mention his alleged enabling role in state capture”.
“These matters stand in direct contradiction to the moral and revolutionary integrity embodied by Mlangeni,” wrote Fazel Randera, adding that Mlangeni was “most forthright in his condemnation of Zuma’s behaviour, going so far as to say that, despite having spent 10 years with Zuma on Robben Island, should he be found guilty of the offences levelled against him, Zuma should be returned to [the island] to serve his sentence.”
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said the ANC discussed all activities to celebrate the life of Mlangeni with the family and the foundation.
“Among the activities that took place even before the meeting was a reflection with the SABC done by [former] president Mbeki. Many other comrades and friends of Mlangeni had spoken and reflected on his life and times. Zuma was continuing with a trend that was already happening in the public domain.”
Mabe added that “many more people would continue to reflect until the funeral service”.