AFRICAN National Congress Veterans League president, Sandi Sejake, has accused the African National Congress (ANC) of trying to divide the league, ahead of the party's electoral conference in December.

Mr Sejake accused the ANC of holding talks about his conduct with the league's national leadership in his absence on Monday. The veterans league, like the ANC Women's League and the ANC Youth League, hold voting rights at national conferences of ANC structures.

Mr Sejake is fast acquiring a reputation for not being afraid to speak his mind - much like members of the youth league. He has been critical of the party leadership and reportedly called for President Jacob Zuma's removal due to his ties to the Gupta family.

The veterans league is under fire from the ANC leadership - getting a tongue lashing from Mr Zuma at the opening of the policy conference last week - and a meeting on Mr Sejake's conduct was held in his absence on Monday.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Monday the national leadership of the league had "collectively distanced themselves" from Mr Sejaki's comments about Mr Zuma and had expressed "disappointment" over his "reckless and unwarranted" pronouncements.

Mr Mantashe said Mr Sejaki had spoken "out of turn" and undermined the decisions of the party's national executive committee (NEC) when he said Mr Zuma and his leadership collective would be removed in Mangaung. The NEC had taken a decision to allow the nomination process for electing leaders to be opened in October, two months before the conference.

Mr Sejaki also sided with ANC stalwart and MP, Ben Turok, when the party tried to discipline him for abstaining from voting on the secrecy bill in Parliament last year.

The league leader said yesterday he knew nothing about the meeting between the ANC and the veterans league leadership and was never called to order directly by the ANC. "I should have been part of that. I believe if such a meeting took place, it was intended to divide the veterans league to ensure that those veterans support the campaign for the re-election of the current leaders," Mr Sejake said.

It was the league's role as veteran body to point out when the ANC was not holding true to the values of the organisation, he said. He could not defend the action against Mr Turok, nor could he defend the failure to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo, after it was "wrongly" placed under administration by the national government.

"That is our function as custodians of the ANC.. our role is to ensure that members of the ANC keep to the principles and values of the organisation."

The ANC's policy conference last week featured a "heated debate" on whether to continue using the term "president" to describe league leaders, referring to the youth league, the women's league and the veterans league. The national conference in December would decide whether to use the term "chairman" instead, as the leagues formed part of the ANC, which already had a president.

Mr Sejaki said irrespective of the intention behind changing the term used to describe league leaders, he would be guided by the constitution of the league for his mandate.

"Whether you call it a cleaner or a street sweeper or a president, my mandate will be the same."

The criticism of the veterans league comes after the youth league's president, Julius Malema, was expelled from the ANC after protracted disciplinary proceedings. Mr Mantashe said Mr Sejake had sought to "influence and instigate against the NEC and the president" through the comments he made.

"The ANC views his conduct as being inconsistent with his responsibility as the president of the veterans league ," he said last week.

"Over time, these stalwarts of our movement have played a role of advising and guiding the organisation to deal with challenges in an unassuming and dispassionate manner," Mr Mantashe said.

"It is therefore concerning when a senior member of the organisation gets entangled in polarised and divisive pronouncements."

Mr Mantashe said that the ANC called on Mr Sejake to "desist" from conduct which would "undermine" his contribution to the growth of the party.

marriann@bdfm.co.za