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'That was a mistake. It needs to be corrected': Mbeki on ANC step-aside rule headache

22 May 2022 - 18:22
Former president Thabo Mbeki.
Former president Thabo Mbeki.
Image: Masi Losi/ File photo

Former president Thabo Mbeki has conceded that the ANC’s highest decision-making body, the national executive committee (NEC), made a mistake by not ordering that those who have been charged and instructed to step aside should not contest leadership positions.

“That was a mistake. It needs to be corrected,” he said.

Mbeki was speaking on Sunday at the ANC Youth League national youth task team political school under the banner of “Rebuild, renew, revive, reimagine and reposition the ANCYL towards economic freedom in our lifetime, now or never” in Midrand, Johannesburg.

His comments come at a time when the ruling party is gripped with the step-aside rule matter with prominent leaders, including former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede and Mpumalanga provincial treasurer Mandla Msibi, still being politically active while they have been charged.

TimesLIVE reported recently that party leaders who were elected despite facing criminal charges will stay in their positions for now. This is according to senior party leaders who attended a recent national working committee (NWC) meeting.

At the centre of the discussions was whether eThekwini regional chairperson Gumede, and Msibi will keep their jobs after the party’s amendment of its step-aside rules.

This followed a NEC decision that criminally charged leaders who have been made to step aside from their positions by the ANC will be barred from contesting leadership positions in the party.  

But the amended guidelines were instituted only after the re-election of corruption-accused Gumede and murder-accused Msibi, leading to some in the party calling for a retrospective approach.

Mbeki, who was addressing the youth league for the first time in 12 years, said: “Now you step aside, stand for an elections and unfortunately, you get elected. What do you think that is doing to the image of the ANC? People got elected and they have not resigned. They have stayed there,” he said.

He said the when the last NEC sat it decided that a mistake had been made when discussing the step-aside rule.

“The mistake we had made is that we didn’t say that those who have stepped aside should not run for positions while they are in a step-aside situation.”

A decision was then taken that those who have been charged should step aside.

Using NYTT convener Nonceba Mhlauli as a hypothetical  example, he said if she was charged, “I am pretty certain that she would say, I was elected while I was on step aside and the ANC has taken a position and therefore I am going to resign from that position I got when I was under the step aside.”

The reason was obvious, he said. “When the 54th conference raised this question it was saying it would help comrades that get charged with serious offences. There is no assumption on the part of the movement that because you are charged, therefore you are guilty.

“The reality of the matter is that Thabo Mbeki gets charged with a serious offence. In terms of the masses of the people that becomes a matter of disrepute and the masses then say, ‘here is this ANC’.”

Loyal members would step aside because they want to “minimise the damage to the ANC”.

This, Mbeki said, was an indication of the calibre of ANC members. “It’s very worrying,” he said.

“What happens when the ANC dies with the youth league, it’s the death of the national democratic revolution? I think that’s a matter of deep worry.”

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