There was “nothing wrong” with ANC members accepting nominations and contesting positions in the party's leadership, President Jacob Zuma said on Saturday.
“People think there is something wrong with accepting nominations. There is nothing wrong,” he said to applause from guests at the Progressive Business Forum gala dinner.
Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe has accepted nominations to replace Zuma at the African National Congress's national conference in Mangaung (Bloemfontein).
Zuma used the example of when Harry Gwala ran against former ANC leader Walter Sisulu despite knowing he would lose.
“Harry Gwala, contested Walter Sisulu… and if he got ten votes, it would be too much,” he said.
Zuma said that when Gwala was asked why he ran he said that it was to teach the young members of the ANC about democracy.
“Contestations was there [when the ANC was formed] in 1912 in Mangaung,” he said.
Zuma said ANC members were very passionate about the organisation.
“They are vibrant, and they sing and make signs with their hands,” he joked.
Members who supported Zuma for a second term often hold up two fingers, while those supporting Motlanthe roll their hands in a gesture synonomous with calling for the substitution of a soccer player.
“Democracy is about free expression and free choice. [it is about] people not being afraid to express themselves. That is what the ANC is doing. “
Zuma said the during 100 years of existence, the ANC had grown from being an organisation of people labeled as “terrorists” to the ruling party of a country.
“There are many organisations that have come and gone, and the ANC grows stronger,” he said.
“The ANC will still be there at the next centenary. We are blessed we are here this time around. “
He said the ANC was often labelled as corrupt, but the allegations were untrue.
“Before 1994, if you spoke about corruption you were likely to get unwelcomed visitors,” he joked.
“We have created vehicles to fight corruption, and we are branded as the most corrupt organisation.”
He also wished former ANC president Nelson Mandela a “speedy recovery”.
Mandela spent the last week in a Pretoria hospital where he was being treated for a lung infection and gallstones.
The ANC's national conference is scheduled to start on Sunday. The party's top six officials, as well as the national executive committee members would be elected by delegates over the course of the week.