A group of ministers threatened to resign on Sunday if President Jacob Zuma remained as the country’s president.
The ministers made the dramatic threat on the sidelines of a tense extended national executive (NEC) committee meeting.
The threat can be viewed as a pre-emptive strike against Zuma, who has been planning a Cabinet reshuffle to purge his political opponents.
One of the ministers said: “It’s a malicious rumour, we are fighting within ANC processes.”
The ministers are known to Business Day.
It is understood a stalemate in the meeting prompted ANC Northern Cape chairman Zemani Saul to propose a “compromise”. He suggested that the top six leaders of the party should wrangle over the issue and report back to the NEC at its next meeting.
Many ministers who have been contemplating resigning spoke out in support of Zuma’s recall at a three-day NEC meeting in Irene over the weekend.
Ministers who spoke out face a stark choice should Zuma remain in office: resign and make way for Zuma to fill their positions with his loyalists or wait for him to reshuffle them.
Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, his deputy, Joe Phaahla, and ANC economic transformation chief Enoch Godongwana were among those who led the charge against the embattled Zuma.
Sources said Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe and African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma came to Zuma’s defence.
Sources from both sides said there was a point in the meeting at which Deputy Agriculture Minister Bheki Cele and Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa almost came to blows. Cele chided an irate Mthethwa about the Marikana massacre when the latter was police minister. Cele did this as he sought to illustrate how ANC leaders failed to take responsibility for their actions.
The ANC NEC was on Monday night split on the future of party president Zuma, with members on both sides pushing to win the day after his recall as state president was raised at the meeting on Saturday.
In an unprecedented debate, which most analysts see as the waning of Zuma’s political clout, some members called for him to step down and those close to him came to his defence.
The NEC meeting was supposed to have ended on Sunday but was extended to Monday as both sides failed to agree on a way forward for the president.
Zuma is unlikely to lose the battle, but the fierce debate in the NEC showed his detractors were beginning to gain confidence in this battle of wills.
The high-stakes boardroom battle will have far-reaching ramifications for the ANC and the country – and particularly for the individuals who spoke against Zuma in his presence.
Zuma opponents demanded a secret ballot in a vote of no confidence against the president. This was shut down by Zuma backers who argued that such a vote was a departure from ANC tradition.
NEC member Pule Mabe said if there were a secret ballot, ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu and ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe should also be on it. Mthembu was among the first NEC leaders to speak out against the president.
During the meeting ANC Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile warned NEC members they were dealing with former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s state of capture report in the same manner in which they had dealt with the Nkandla report.
The latter had resulted in a damaging Constitutional Court judgment before the 2016 local government elections.
It is understood that Mashatile said the ANC was “handing the opposition a manifesto for 2019”.
The debate began with Hannekom raising Zuma’s recall.
He was supported by Motsoaledi, Phaahla, NEC member Fikile Xasa, Mthembu and Gondongwana.
ANC Free State chairman Ace Magashule called on those ministers who were unhappy with Zuma to resign. His North West counterpart, Supra Mahumapelo, described ministers speaking out against Zuma as “counter-revolutionaries”.
A Zuma supporter on Monday said the president should not hesitate to remove these ministers as the trust between them had been broken.
Two sources supporting Zuma said the move to have him recalled was “co-ordinated and well planned”.
The meeting was expected to conclude late on Monday.
A media briefing is expected to take place on Tuesday on the meeting’s outcomes.