ANC presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale's campaign was dealt a major blow this week when a public relations exercise in which he was meant to woo the support of Nelson Mandela Bay backfired, leaving him with only a handful of regional leaders by his side.
The icy reception from both factions of the ANC in the metro – a crucial region in the party's second biggest province , the Eastern Cape – was an embarrassment for Sexwale. Only regional leader Nceba Faku and a few others accompanied him to lay wreaths at the graves of struggle heroes like Raymond Mhlaba and Govan Mbeki yesterday.
The snub is also a boost for President Jacob Zuma, who seems to enjoy the support of the broader leadership of the metro, four months before the party's elective conference in Mangaung.
Furthermore, Sexwale's visit also exposed cracks in the unity of the regional executive committee as most of its members would not be seen with him, saying this would send the "wrong message” to the party's national headquarters, Luthuli House.
"We don't want him here. We never invited him and we distanced ourselves from that programme. We support Zuma and we are clear about that,” said a councillor, who is also an REC member, said.
"Only Giraffe [Faku] was there today. We are not surprised by that. He once campaigned for Tokyo [before] and he received support from him. We believe that is what is happening even now. But we can assure you, Nceba does not have the numbers that Tokyo needs to win the metro in Mangaung.”
Sexwale was scheduled to visit the graves on Wednesday morning before delivering the Nelson Mandela lecture that night. However he was locked up behind closed doors with mayor Zanoxolo Wayile and senior ANC councillors who wanted to know who had invited him to the metro. According to councillors who attended the meeting at the City Hall, Sexwale took out an invitation letter bearing Wayile's signature as proof that he was invited.
But Wayile distanced himself from it, saying he had never seen it before and that someone in the municipality had used his electronic signature to authenticate the invitation.
The councillor said it later emerged that the metro's special sectors coordinator Mabhuti Dano – who is close to Faku – had invited Sexwale. However Dano yesterday insisted that Sexwale was "invited by the municipality”.
"Details of the programme can only be obtained from the mayor's office.”
When asked why Wayile had said he knew nothing about the invitation, Dano said: "I can't discuss internal issues with the media.”
ANC regional secretary Zandisile Qupe said: "We had nothing to do with that programme. It had nothing to do with the ANC. We were only one of the stakeholders invited.”
Another ANC councillor said Sexwale's visit to the Bay had unveiled who supported who in the run-up to the Mangaung. conference. He said even the REC were divided over who to support.
"Qupe supports Gwede Mantashe and Zuma, and Faku supports Tokyo. The whole programme for Tokyo's visit flopped [on Wednesday] because there were attempts to set up the mayor to make it look like he invited Tokyo and that he was backing him Tokyo leading up to Mangaung.
"They wanted the mayor to look bad because they know he has a good relationship with Zuma, and they wanted to say ‘I told you so' to Zuma.”
Sexwale delivered the lecture on Wednesday night and while the City Hall was full, most of the ANC and municipal leadership were visibly absent.
At the graves yesterday, a nostalgic Sexwale kept reminiscing about his days with Faku in prison on Robben Island, affectionately calling him Giraffe, and jokingly saying Faku should be in the ANC national executive committee.
"If I were to go to the disciplinary committee now [after this statement], I'd be found guilty of canvassing,” he said.
"People of Nelson Mandela Bay, Nceba [Faku], hold the ANC together. Many people fought and died for this freedom.” Sexwale said.
Several attempts to obtain comment from Wayile's spokesman, Luncedo Njezula, were unsuccessful.