03/07/2017 15:29 BST | Updated 03/07/2017 15:29 BST

ANC Leadership United At 'Wonderful' Conference, Says Zuma

The president's comments are an about-turn from his opening speech, in which he lambasted some stalwarts for boycotting the first two days of the gathering.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma ahead of this year's ANC policy conference.

The ANC's top leadership is speaking in a united voice, despite widespread speculation that the party remains divided at its 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, says President Jacob Zuma.

Speaking to the media during his tour of Nasrec, Zuma said he was impressed with the level of commitment and engagement from delegates.

He made reference to the youth and stalwarts in particular, who he said had presented quality debates at commissions.

"This policy conference is going very well. Anyone will agree to say it's wonderful. The recommendation to national conference in December are going to take us forward."

Zuma's impressions of the stalwarts is in stark contrast to his opening speech, where he took jabs at them for having boycotted the first two days of the gathering, which were set aside for its consultative conference.

'Unity of purpose'

In his opening speech, Zuma said some of the stalwarts had no power to remove him and that they disregarded the branches.

He said the extended days had given the party an opportunity to have more debate, "so that there is more clarity. We have time to clarify issues that may not be clear.

"This policy conference, in a sense, is looking at solutions to challenges that face us. What is there that we can do to ensure that all resolutions, policies are implemented. We are very happy ... We believe ... as always when the challenges are there, the ANC rises to the challenges."

During his walkabout on Sunday, presidential hopeful Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said the delegates were in good spirits. "There's unity of purpose and there aren't divisions as many people would have suspected."

The conference is a gathering of about 3,500 delegates from branches across the country to discuss the party's policies going into the elective conference in December, where changes and new policies will be ratified.

The first two days of the conference, which began on Friday June 30, were spent looking into a diagnostic report into the state of the party.

The report was presented to the plenary on Friday night by secretary general Gwede Mantashe, who told reporters on Saturday that some members of the plenary had made attempts to keep him from presenting it to the gathering.

After some discussion, it was agreed that the report would be read out and placed into the record.

Leadership race

It is said that those who raised issues with having the report read out were from the Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal branches.

Earlier that day, minutes before Zuma was to give his opening address, members from Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Limpopo, North West and the Women's League took part in a "sing-off" with delegates from the Eastern Cape.

This was after Eastern Cape delegates began singing songs calling for a change in leadership and using the soccer substitution gesture. The battle took place in front of the podium where Zuma was to address the gathering.

The other, much larger group eventually overpowered them and pushed the Eastern Cape group back to their seats, singing songs praising Zuma.

The conference got under way amid divisions over a fiercely contested leadership race between Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Mantashe had told reporters previously that divisive songs aimed at hurting certain leaders or appearing to launch campaigns for others would not be allowed. - News24