President Jacob Zuma has described the African National Congress Youth League's (ANCYL's) critique and insistence that monopoly capital must be defined racially as a critical matter that must continue to be debated.
He was speaking to the SABC during a meet and greet with the media on Wednesday morning.
Zuma was asked what his thoughts were on reports that the ANCYL was disputing a statement made by national executive committee (NEC) member Joel Netshitenzhe on Tuesday night that nine out of the 11 commissions agreed that monopoly capital should not be racially defined and that it was not the enemy.
"The conference is all about the debate and that indicates that our youth is alive on these matters because it is a critical matter for the country," he said.
"If the ANC doesn't talk about it, including the monopoly capital, who else [will]?"
He said the country's economic and historical past needed to be raised in relation to the definition of what monopoly capital was in the South African context.
"And I think the debate that the youth is putting across is that South Africa has different features to global kinds of monopoly.
"Here you have the white minority dominating the economy, and that is the debate. It's a debate which is alive which makes the country look at itself," Zuma said.
On Tuesday night, News24 was made aware that the fierce battle over white monopoly capital was set to continue at the ANC policy conference.
Supporters of Zuma and, by extension, presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, were disputing the outcome of the commissions as announced by Netshitenzhe.
"Nine of the 11 commissions felt that the phenomenon of monopoly capital is a global one and manifests itself differently," Netshitenzhe said.
"In that context, it would therefore not be correct to characterise ours simply as white monopoly capital. That relationship would apply whether it's Japanese, Indian, white or whatever category you can think about," he said.
But the comments earned him the ire of Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma supporters. It was widely seen as a defeat for the faction.
Refusal to apologise
News24 understands that a delegate noted Netshitenzhe's comments through tweets by journalists while plenary was underway.
ANC Youth League secretary general Njabulo Nzuza raised the matter, leading to another heated debate on Tuesday night.
The dispute was then referred to the party's steering committee.
On Wednesday morning the dispute was still under way. Netshitenzhe was reportedly asked to apologise at plenary, but refused, insisting that what he had reported to the media briefing was factual.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala then demanded that Netshitenzhe's refusal to apologise be referred to the steering committee. He accused some in the conference of not caring about the "unity and the stability" of the party.
He also insisted that Netshitenzhe's report was not a true reflection of deliberations.
The issue of white monopoly capital versus monopoly capital was referred back to the branches to discuss and would be concluded at the December national elective conference.
The topic was contentious ahead of the conference, with arguments being pushed along factional lines ahead of the presidential race.
Supporters of current deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa are arguing that monopoly capital should not be defined by any particular colour, even though in the South African context, it is dominated by the white minority.
However, Zuma's allies want it to be racially defined.
The country's current economic crisis had taken centre stage at the policy conference and the party has previously said it would be taking swift action where it could, to mitigate the damage.
The policy conference does not have constitutional powers to change policy, but proposals will be taken to the December elective conference for adoption.
On the reports of disagreements, contradictions and divisions, Zuma said it was part and parcel of the territory that came with conference.
"I think the quality of the debate is very high, higher than other times," he said.
He said the fact that the meeting had met for a week had given the party more than enough time to sit and discuss every matter that had been put on the table.
"I'm also happy that we met for a week, this is what we need so that we can deal with the issues. We are not rushing."
Zuma described the heated debates taking place in plenary and commissions as the ANC being its usual vibrant self and squashed rumours of any disunity.
"The ANC has always been united, you guys [the media] don't understand that contradictions are healthy and constructive contributions," he said.