African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee member Bheki Cele says the fact that almost 200 branches in KwaZulu-Natal nominated Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the party's next president shows maturity beyond tribal lines.
Cele made the comments during an interview with News24 to discuss his thoughts on the ANC’s national elective conference, which kicks off on Saturday.
Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are the frontrunners in the race to replace President Jacob Zuma as head of the ANC.
Dlamini-Zuma has received 454 nominations, while Ramaphosa got 19, a figure which surprised some who had expected the deputy president not to garner any support in the ANC’s biggest province.
"There were people who approached me to say, why are you supporting a Venda when you are Zulu," said Cele.
The agriculture and forestry deputy minister said a call made in 1912, when the ANC was born, for different tribes to work together clearly resonated with some in his home province.
"I think they are showing maturity, the people of KZN saying the ANC is for South Africans, not for a certain tribe. They are making their choices to say everyone is capable to lead in the ANC going forward," Cele said.
He said, in his eThekwini region, people had risen above threats and attempts to suppress their wishes to nominate Ramaphosa, and do what they believed was good for the ANC.
Unprecedented number of legal threats
Cele said legal challenges were a new trend in the party. The ANC has seen a record number of cases related to its branch general meetings and processes leading up to the elective congress – which has impacted several provinces, including the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the Free State.
"We have never gone to an ANC conference with such legal threats. We would go there and think who would be president, who would be in the NEC, and about policies," said Cele.
He said he did not believe the conference itself would collapse, comparing the current divisions to those in the party during its 52 nd national conference, which took place in Polokwane. Cele said, if that conference did not fall apart, he couldn't see how this year's one would.
"I don’t see it collapsing, unless someone goes to court and says, interdict the conference."
Cele said he believed that outgoing ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe had done everything in accordance with the ANC’s rules and constitution.
"Those that have the mind of collapsing the conference can put around those things. At no time have we gone to a conference with the perfect act," he said.