ALIEN behaviour within the African National Congress and rude and disrespectful remarks about its leaders had to stop, Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general of the ruling party, told a media briefing on Tuesday.

The unusual briefing at Luthuli House in Johannesburg was also attended by party leader Jacob Zuma, deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, treasurer Mathews Phosa, national chairwoman Baleka Mbete and deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise.

"Some incidents have caused confusion within the ANC and the public at large," Mr Mantashe said, adding that there had been attempts to create the perception in the national discourse that senior ANC officials were at odds with each other in the run-up to the party's elective conference in Mangaung later this year.

He said the top leadership acted as one on matters of discipline and did not compete for positions. "All members in good standing are eligible to be nominated and stand for any position in the ANC," he said.

Mr Mantashe said it was accepted that members of the ANC would lobby for their own candidates for the leadership, but that they had to do so within the confines of the movement.

He said statements made by ANC Youth League president Julius Malema at the weekend that new ideas in the ANC were suppressed were "disingenuous" and "a deliberate falsehood", adding that it was unfortunate that the league had chosen the ANC's centenary year to call the party undemocratic and to try to sow division.

Mr Malema said Mr Zuma had replaced democracy with dictatorship, and that the youth league was being traumatised and suppressed.

On Tuesday, Mr Mantashe also referred to statements made earlier in the day by the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association and the ANC Youth League as undesirable.

The veterans' association had provoked an angry response from the youth league when it said Mr Malema - who has appealed against his expulsion from the ruling party - had to be summarily expelled as he thought he was "bigger than the ANC".

The league said the veterans' association had "only wanted to be on television so they could show their girlfriends".

Mr Mantashe also warned against "mischievous reporting" by the media on leadership within the ANC, singling out a recent Business Day story that said Mr Motlanthe had "sort of" thrown his hat in the ring for the ANC leadership race.

The report said Mr Motlanthe's presence at a rally organised by the ANC Youth League in Limpopo last month had created the impression he did not mind being associated with a group campaigning for change.

On Tuesday, Mr Motlanthe told the press briefing he and Mr Zuma would "continue to utilise every opportunity to convey the message of unity" and that "those using our names to divide the organisation will not succeed".

With SAM MKOKELI and SAPA