Heckling of President Ramaphosa triggers backlash in ruling ANC

Both supporters and critics of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa say disruptions of his speech at a ruling party conference could weaken his opponents as Ramaphosa seeks a second term [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

South Africa’s president is seeking a second term and is widely seen as the the party’s strongest candidate despite a farm scandal.

Party allies and even some rivals of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa have condemned opponents who disrupted his opening speech with chants and shouting at a conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

“We must condemn [the disruption] because it’s not the behaviour of the ANC membership,” Siboniso Duma – chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial ANC, the single biggest power bloc trying to get Ramaphosa removed – said on Saturday.

“You can’t just [make noise] when the president is speaking,” he told broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, reflecting a backlash over Friday’s disruption that some people said could strengthen the president.

Ramaphosa spoke at a five-day gathering of the ANC to elect candidates for 2024 national elections. The president is seeking a second term and is widely seen as the party’s strongest candidate despite a scandal involving the discovery of a stash of cash at his Phala Phala game farm in Limpopo province.

During raucous chants of “Out, Ramaphosa, out!” he could barely be heard during Friday’s address, his words drowned out for several minutes before the hecklers quieted down.

Ramaphosa faces strong opposition from a rival ANC faction that is calling for him to quit over the Phala Phala scandal. He has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes despite a parliament report that led to a failed impeachment vote.

The ANC’s presidential candidate has been a shoo-in for South Africa’s top job ever since white minority rule ended in 1994.

The conference had been due to make a decision on the candidacy late on Saturday, but some delegates said the infighting meant it could be postponed until Sunday or later.

“Discussions are ongoing. Trade-offs are ongoing,” ANC deputy presidential hopeful and Eastern Cape ANC Chairman Oscar Mabuyane told reporters. “Provinces are engaging. Nothing [is] complete at this time. We are all interested to emerge here with a very solid, strong leadership.”

Ramaphosa’s political woes have galvanised supporters of former President Jacob Zuma, who is himself being investigated for allegedly colluding with three Indian businessmen, the brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, to syphon off state funds during his tenure from 2009 to 2018. Zuma denies those charges.

The strongest challenger from that camp is Zweli Mkhize, the former health minister whom Ramaphosa put on special leave last year in the wake of allegations that his department irregularly awarded COVID-19-related contracts to a company controlled by his former associates. Mkhize denies wrongdoing.

Some people said Friday’s incident could set back their challenge.

“That was completely out of order,” Zamani Saul, Northern Cape ANC chairman told SABC news. “What they did yesterday soiled [their] campaign.”



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