South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s party allies and even some rivals on Saturday condemned opponents who disrupted his opening speech with chants and sloganeering at a convention of the ruling ANC on Friday.
Ramaphosa, who was speaking at a five-day gathering of the African National Congress (ANC) to choose candidates for the 2024 national elections, is seeking a second term and is widely seen as the party’s strongest candidate.
But amid 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 quietened down.
Ramaphosa faces strong opposition from a rival ANC faction that is calling for him to quit over a scandal involving the discovery of a stash of cash at his farm. He has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes. But some party members said the heckling incident could backfire.
“We must condemn (the disruption) because it’s not the behavior of the ANC membership,” Siboniso Duma, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial ANC, the single biggest power block trying to get Ramaphosa removed.
“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 leave the president stronger than he looked on Friday. The ANC’s presidential candidate has been a shoe-in for the country’s top job ever since the party’s leading light Nelson Mandela ended white minority rule in 1994.
The conference had been due to decide 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. Provinces are engaging. Nothing (is) complete at this time. We are all interested to emerge here with a very solid, strong leadership,” ANC deputy presidential hopeful and Eastern Cape ANC Chairperson Oscar Mabuyane told reporters.
Ramaphosa’s political woes are backed by former president Jacob Zuma, who himself is under investigation for allegedly colluding with three Indian businessmen during his tenure between 2009 and 2018 – charges he denies.
The strongest challenger from that camp is Zweli Mkhize, the former health minister who was placed on special leave by Ramaphosa last year in the wake of allegations that his department irregularly awarded COVID-19-related contracts to a company controlled by his former allies. Mkhize denies wrongdoing. Some people said Friday’s incident could set their challenge backward.
“That was completely out of order. What they did yesterday soiled (their) campaign,” Zamani Saul, Northern Cape ANC chairperson told SABC news.