Former president Jacob Zuma may have departed from the national stage, but he continues to cause ructions in the SA Communist Party (SACP).
One of the party leaders, Themba Mthembu, landed in hot water for inviting Zuma to a government event. City Press has learnt that Mthembu, the ANC KwaZulu-Natal secretary and agriculture MEC, had to account to the SACP central committee – the highest decision-making structure between congresses – on how he invited Zuma to the legislature for his budget speech, a move which the party feels has “embarrassed and undermined it”.
The matter was also raised at the party’s politburo meeting on Monday.
Party boss Blade Nzimande is under pressure to act on Mthembu or risk being seen as applying kid gloves to the KZN leader, who is seen as one of his “strong men”.
The presence of Zuma at Mthembu’s budget speech led to claims that Mthembu was conniving with the Zuma faction and that ahead of the Nasrec conference last year he had nailed his colours to that faction, which supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ).
“It has always been known that Mthembu worked, albeit clandestinely before ANC Nasrec conference, with NDZ caucuses and that he continued to have warm relations with them in the province as both the MEC for agriculture and as an alliance provincial leader. The recent special invitation of former president Zuma to his budget policy speech event was the last straw for the party; it embarrassed it,” said an insider.
Another said Mthembu was doing this “to save his government career”.
“He has calculated that the [Sihle] Zikalala faction will win the conference and the general elections are next year, so he wants to be reconsidered for the MEC post. Most of us in the party, including the Cyril Ramaphosa side, have been left wondering about his overt betrayal for narrow deployment accommodation.”
However, Mthembu has rubbished suggestions of being a Zuma lackey. He further denied being desperate to remain in government, saying his deployment was discussed and approved by headquarters.
Mthembu insisted he did not personally invite Zuma, saying that the invite from his office was meant for the former first lady Sizakele MaKhumalo Zuma. When the confirmation came back with Zuma’s name, he then directed that the legislature be informed as that had become a protocol issue.
“So on the day of the budget speech again it was confirmed and I wouldn’t have stopped it. I think what is at play here is a build-up to the provincial congress.
“What I want to emphasise is that the party in KZN is an integral component of the party nationally, and we subscribe 100% to the national positions of the party.
“It is unfortunate now that this matter of the department has since been linked to the party. I strongly believe that it is done deliberately. We are aware who is doing it,” asserted Mthembu, who wouldn’t be drawn into mentioning names.
“We are even aware of the lie that I was advised against inviting the former president. That is a clear demonstration that someone is cooking something.”
Mthembu insisted that the allegations against him were intended to unsettle him ahead of the provincial congress where another contender could be fielded to unseat him, ending his 16-year tenure. The congress is expected to sit in three weeks’ time.
SACP deputy secretary Solly Mapaila confirmed the matter was expected to be discussed at the two-day meeting, where the party will also adopt a document on how it wants the ANC alliance to be reconfigured so that all partners have an equal say on key policy and deployment decisions.
He described the invitation extended to Zuma as a serious miscalculation.
“Comrade Mthembu is here. The provincial executive committee in KZN had a meeting last week, so we expect him to say something to the central committee and obviously we will discuss that.
“What we should say is that we have disassociated ourselves with former president Zuma as the SACP because first he divided the alliance, then divided the ANC itself, divided our country and worked with people who stole the independence of our country,” he said.