The African National Congress (ANC) has described claims by the Sunday Times that some of the party’s senior members had a meeting to plot the removal of President Cyril Ramaphosa as “sensational hot air” and “senseless gossip”.
The Sunday Times is reporting that a group in the ruling party, including former President Jacob Zuma, is plotting in secret to unseat Ramaphosa by challenging the Nasrec conference on the basis of mass irregularities at branch meetings. The paper claims that the meeting was attended by ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and former North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo and was convened in Durban on Thursday.
“The meeting is believed to have discussed a fightback strategy that involves court action to challenge the outcome of last year’s ANC national conference, which elected Ramaphosa party president,” Sunday Times said, citing witnesses and senior ANC leaders.
The paper said the first action from the group was a letter sent to Magashule on Wednesday from regional executive committees in the North West, challenging the ANC’s highest decision-making body for its decision to disband the Mahumapelo-led provincial executive committee. It is alleged that the group has opted to challenge Ramaphosa’s election through legal means after realising that “they have been politically weakened”.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe says, “The ANC calls on its members and the public at large not to be misled by this baseless story. We’re disappointed that the Sunday Times in a very irresponsible and dangerous manner proceeded to publish this misleading story. We urge the Sunday Times to immediately retract the story, which is nothing but incoherent political gossip.”
Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in a leadership vote at the party’s national conference in December. The ANC then ordered Zuma to step down as president in February. Since taking office, Ramaphosa has been prioritizing rooting out corruption as he strives to put the sluggish economy back on a sustained growth trajectory. Such measures led to the forced resignation of Mahumapelo as North West leader. As bold as some of Ramaphosa’s decisions have been, he still maintains a cautious leadership style as he and some ANC officials know the power that Zuma loyalists retain within the ANC, Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
ANC Youth League KwaZulu-Natal secretary Thanduxolo Sabelo has lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman following a report in the Sunday Times that he was involved in plans to oust President Cyril Ramaphosa.
"It is just not true what has been reported. I have made it very clear that I was not part of any meeting or aware of any plot to try and remove President Cyril Ramaphosa. I have laid an official complaint with the ombudsman," Sabelo told News24.
According to the newspaper report, besides Magashule, those at the meeting also included former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, ANC Women's League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba – as well as Sabelo. The meeting is alleged to have taken place at the Maharani hotel in Durban on Thursday. The newspaper published a photograph showing Magashule, Mahumapelo, Zuma and Matuba together – apparently at the hotel.
Sabelo said that he believed the article was aimed at "harming my good relations with Ramaphosa and sending the message to the youth that I am not to be trusted".
He said the allegations in the article were "rubbish".
"I am not part of any of those plans. I support the elected leadership of the ANC."
Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko told News24 that the publication stood by its report, adding: "We will wait for his complaint."
Sabelo said he had been seen at the hotel only because while driving past; he had coincidentally spotted Magashule at the location and stopped to say hello.
"I was just greeting him and I asked what brings him to the province. Can you ask the SG of the ANC what he is doing in one of the provinces? I spoke to him for five to 10 minutes; he was leaving the hotel and rushing to the airport."
Sabelo said this chance encounter occurred on Thursday afternoon. According to the Sunday Times article, Matuba suggested to the newspaper that her presence at the hotel was also coincidental. She apparently also said that she encountered Magashule by chance while at the hotel for Women's League work. In a statement released on Sunday by Matuba, on behalf of the women's league, she called the report "malicious" and "false".
"The ANCWL under the leadership of president comrade Bathabile Dlamini and her collective unreservedly supports the ANC leadership collective under president Cyril Ramaphosa elected at the 54th national conference held in December 2017 at Nasrec. There is no truth in the story… that there are plans to oust President Ramaphosa."
When approached by the publication, Magashule denied that a meeting with Zuma took place. Mahumapelo did not comment and neither did Zuma's spokesperson Vukile Mathabela. ANC national working committee member and former KZN premier Senzo Mchunu apparently told the newspaper he was aware of meetings by supporters of Zuma to find a way for the former president to return to power.
The Sunday Times also reported that on Wednesday a different meeting – involving Magashule, Mahumapelo and former SAA Board chair Dudu Myeni had allegedly taken place at the Beverley Hills Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks. Approached about this meeting, Myeni apparently declined to comment.
According to the article, supporters of Zuma want to instate a legal challenge against the results of last year's ANC National Conference during which new President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected to the top ANC position.