In a significant development to his campaign for African National Congress (ANC) presidency, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has called for "one slate" ahead of the ANC's elective congress in December.
"Unity is the bedrock with which the ANC was founded, we must nip the growing elements of factionalism in the bud, we must create one ANC slate," Ramaphosa said during his address to applauding delegates attending the Northern Cape congress currently underway in Colesberg.
This is the strongest indication yet that Ramaphosa does not have appetite for a vicious battle with former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for the ANC's top job.
Slates have been at the centre of divisive ANC leadership conferences in 2007 and 2012, where President Jacob Zuma beat former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe respectively.
The plea for unity comes amidst warnings by several ANC leaders that if one slate wins the December conference, to be held in Johannesburg, they risk inheriting a “shell” of the party.
At least three senior leaders attending the conference in Colesberg said Ramaphosa's statements were a sign that he was pushing for no contestation at the December conference, while another said he (Ramaphosa) was reaching out to other presidential contenders in the party’s succession race.
While Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma are seen as front runners, there are presidential campaigns for housing minister Lindiwe Sisulu, Motlanthe, former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa and Speaker Baleka Mbete.
“We need one slate of a representative ANC that represents the views, dreams and aspiration of our people. We don’t want to have many slates, we only want to have one ANC slate that will take this movement forward,” Ramaphosa said.
‘Win back the love’
He said leaders should put their differences aside and put the interest of the people ahead of their “parochial interests”.
Leaders must be courageous to admit their mistakes and humble themselves if they have made mistakes, Ramaphosa said.
Ramaphosa said the ANC needs to go through a process of renewal to win back the “love” of the electorate, admitting that the party was now weak.
"We don’t want arrogant leaders anymore, we do not want leaders who think that they know it all, we don’t want leaders who don’t take advice, we don’t want leaders who will leave their people behind, who are distant from our people.
Watch Ramaphosa calling for one "ANC slate":
He spent time explaining the analogy of an eagle whose talons become blunt after 40 years and is forced to go through a "bloody process" at a mountain to remove them for new stronger ones to emerge.
“We should do so with eyes on (the national election in) 2019, how we are going to win so that we get more than 75% (of the vote). We can only do so if we remove our claws and beaks because they have become blunt," Ramaphosa said.
The ANC has agreed to set aside two days of its June policy conference for a consultative conference, although its veterans wanted the two separated.
Ramaphosa said the renewal process will help the ANC win a two-thirds majority in the 2019 national elections. The party's electoral fortunes have been on the decline since 2009.
He urged delegates expected to start voting for new Northern Cape leadership late on Friday to vote for leaders who are above reproach and that will unify the province. He also denounced the booing and heckling that has dominated ANC events.
"You must say no to dividing this conference to factions, you must say no to this bad habit of singing and shouting in derogatory terms, where we insult other comrades. We must say no to all this very bad tendencies, booing and all that," Ramaphosa said.