Johannesburg – Former president Thabo Mbeki’s surprise reappearance at the ANC’s national executive committee meeting on Sunday set social media ablaze and raised questions on what his sudden return meant.
It appears the Mbeki card has been in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s pocket for some time. One of the first trips Ramaphosa made after being elected president of the ANC at Nasrec in 2017 was to Mbeki’s home to ask for his support.
Sources inside the meeting say Mbeki was brought in to avoid the party disintegrating into an early conference if ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was forced to step down.
The Star has been reliably informed that the Magashule faction was preparing itself to call for an early conference if he was axed.
Mbeki, a seasoned negotiator, was brought in to manage a potential fallout. Mbeki’s office and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation have not returned any of The Star’s calls.
The threat of an early conference which would potentially remove the top six was further amplified by MKMVA (Mkhonto Wesizwe Military Veterans Association) president Kebby Maphatsoe, who threatened the country with war if Magashule was removed or if Zuma was arrested.
“South Africa will be ungovernable. It will be open war. Let them fire the SG or arrest Zuma,” Maphatsoe warned.
Another source at Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters, has revealed to The Star that Ramaphosa first offered Mbeki the position of leader of an envoy to the US to boost economic growth but declined.
Mbeki suggested, however, that Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, former deputy president and wife of former Scorpions chief Bulelani Ngcuka, be appointed.
Zuma also put in an appearance at the NEC, a move later defended by Magashule, saying “the NEC was wiser because of the attendance of Mbeki and Zuma”.
It appears Mbeki will now be an active factor in Ramaphosa’s decisions, under a code phrase used in Ramaphosa’s inner circle known as “Rescinding the Zuma phenomenon”.
Magashule declined to comment on whether Mbeki was brought in to manage the fallout that would come if he were removed.
“I won’t be removed. That’s it. The ANC is working,” Magashule said.
Magashule is also said to be very close to ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile.
In 2008, the then NEC resolved to remove Mbeki as president after a defeat by Zuma at the party’s elective conference in Polokwane the previous year.
Later in 2008, Mbeki was angry the ANC had announced that he would campaign on its behalf after it fired him.
In a letter to Zuma, delivered to Luthuli House, Mbeki complained that he had not been consulted by party bosses about whether he would be available to assist in the election campaign.
Mbeki is understood to have complained about the irony that the very ANC that recalled him from office because it had no confidence in him, saw fit to publicly announce that he would be expected to campaign for it.
Mbeki also raised that he had been attacked for taking Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgment – which implied he was guilty of political meddling and abusing state resources – on review.
The NEC meeting will conclude on Tuesday.