“Today is about the ANC and not about President Jacob Zuma!”
These were the marching orders that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe gave to the party’s caucus in a meeting held in Parliament this morning ahead of the watershed motion of no confidence debate in Zuma.
The secret vote, announced by National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete yesterday, has heightened the stakes as a number of ANC MPs had previously said they would not follow the party line and instead will follow their conscience in casting their votes.
Mantashe addressed a packed caucus meeting which started shortly after 10am and lasted about 50 minutes in the Old Assembly chamber in Parliament. Among the attendants was Zuma himself, although he did not address the meeting.
Zuma evaded a scrum of journalists that gathered outside the meeting from early on this morning, using a back entrance to and from the meeting.
The meeting was punctuated by the singing of struggle songs which could be heard from outside the venue.
ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu revealed that no ANC MP questioned or objected to Mantashe after he “put down the party line” – to oppose the motion against the president.
“Vote against the motion of no confidence against the president. That was the line,” Mthembu confirmed to City Press what a number of MPs had said off-the-record.
“We all agreed and that it was not first time that this party line was put before the ANC caucus.
"The caucus itself had constructed this line but this time this line came through the secretary general [Mantashe] who explained why we cannot vote with the opposition to remove our own government,” added Mthembu.
WATCH: Motion of no confidence in the President in Parliament
Mantashe had told the meeting that the message is to vote against the DA motion because there is a standing decision of the national executive committee that “we are not removing the president”.
“He also said there were serious discussions on this matter at the NEC itself.
"He mentioned the November meeting and the one this year and that this matter came before the NEC and the NEC decided against the removal of the president,” said Mthembu, relaying Mantashe’s message.
Mthembu said he was more comfortable after the caucus than before having seen the “resoluteness of our MPs and their eagerness to defeat this motion”.
“I know this caucus, and I know them when they are resolute on doing something … we have seen that resoluteness in their songs and we have seen it in their toyi-toying and in them not even wanting to discuss the line that was put down by the SG.
“When the chair asked ‘do you have any matter that you want to raise, all of them said this is our organisational line and we have no matter to discuss’,” he said.
“We are gearing ourselves to defeat a motion that is meant to fracture and weaken the ANC.
"I don’t know where this conscience comes in, does it come in when people have to fracture and weaken their own organisation,” Mthembu said.
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa wondered if the opposition would accept the results of today’s vote.
“They are busy talking to ANC members. We are busy talking to their members because their members are also not happy,” he said.
The ANC has fielded its deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude, defence and arts and culture ministers Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Nathi Mthethwa and former ANC youth league treasurer Pule Mabe to defend the president.
The EFF has brought back its president Julius Malema who has been away from Parliament for most of this year.