National Executive Committee member Bheki Cele has nailed his colours to the mast in a veiled endorsement of deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Speaking to ANC branches at the Umlazi Cinema Hall in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, Cele weighed in on the debate around whether or not it was ANC tradition for the deputy president to become president.
“Let us not allow ourselves to be confused. We have established traditions even if they are not written down.”
Without referring directly to President Jacob Zuma, Cele said that those who benefited from the unwritten tradition suddenly took issue with it now that the same courtesy had to be extended to the current deputy president. He said that the tradition was not a problem in 2007 when some in the ANC fought tooth and nail for the appointment of Zuma, who was embroiled in a number of legal challenges.
“There are comrades ... they have a right to choose and not to be told who to choose,” he said referring to Zuma’s endorsement of former minister and African Union chairperson Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa are seen as the front runners for the top job in the ANC and, ultimately, the country. Branches of the ANC will head to a national elective conference in December where they will elect the person who will succeed president Zuma.
“Nobody owns the ANC. It is the inheritance of the South African people. It is not the inheritance of one person and his people or his wife.”
The deputy minister of agriculture said that the ANC could not be treated like some royal household where some had a birth right to the throne. He called for the branches not to elect the queen of the royal household but to elect a president.
Despite the agreement that tradition be observed by the ANC, Cele said he would only make public his preferred candidate once the ANC officially opened nominations next month.
Lashing out at Zuma without calling him out by name, Cele said that it had become clear that the president had become the albatross around the neck of the ANC but he stubbornly refused to take his leave.
Referring to his time as a leader in the eThekwini region, Cele said they had built it up and then left because they had the “potential” to destroy it as well.
“If you see that you are doing more harm than good, leave. People must stop thinking they are above the ANC. If it is clear that you are causing a problem for the ANC, hamba khaya.
“We can’t lose the country over one person,” he said.
Egged on by the crowd that had gathered to hear him speak, Cele said that people should not be using the prayer of Samson to take down the ANC.
“You can’t be praying the prayer of Samson – which said give me strength to die with my enemies. Don’t die with the ANC, leave it,” he said as the gathering roared with cheers of agreement.
In a veiled reference to the 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering that the DA has been fighting to have reinstated against Zuma, Cele said the president should stop running away.
“When the court calls you, go. Go and find out what you have been called for. I would go to court and make a case and hear the other side’s case and then we can go home. Why keep fighting for so many years to stay out of court?” he asked.
Last year the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the decision by the national director of public prosecutions in 2009 to drop the charges against Zuma was irrational.
Zuma is appealing the ruling and the matter will be heard in the Supreme Court of Appeals on September 14 and 15.