PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma called for unity yesterday while delivering an African National Congress (ANC) centenary lecture - dedicated to former president Nelson Mandela - in Limpopo, but his address was marred by a scuffle between police and supporters of expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema outside the venue.
Concerned over possible disruptions at the gathering, and in a bid to thwart a repetition of a similar incident in which a group disrupted the memorial lecture by Mr Zuma in Cape Town in February, authorities had beefed up security at the hall in Thohoyandou, Limpopo.
Mr Malema was spearheading the campaign for Mr Zuma's removal before his April expulsion from the party. His supporters turned up at the gathering yesterday to vent frustrations over their leader's removal, which was viewed as a blow to the anti-Zuma campaign.
A scuffle broke out between police and youth league supporters outside the hall before Mr Zuma took to the podium. It is understood that supporters of Mr Malema got into a fight with veterans of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, and were ejected from the venue. Outside the hall about 300 supporters carried posters bearing Mr Malema's image and singing anti-Zuma songs. At least five people were arrested.
Mr Malema yesterday distanced himself from the events, saying it was a matter between party members.
After the incident Mr Zuma delivered a lengthy address, detailing Mr Mandela's life and extensively quoting the Nobel laureate.
He said Mr Mandela remained a "loyal and disciplined" member of the ANC through "thick and thin" and remained true to the Freedom Charter's principles.
Mr Zuma said there remained "one hill" yet for the nation to climb and this was to bring about "true economic and social emancipation".
Meanwhile, the UK's Guardian newspaper yesterday reported that ANC national executive committee member Winnie Madikizela-Mandela - and former wife of Mr Mandela - had complained about the "shabby treatment" the Mandela family received from the party.
The report - based on an "unverified e-mail" which appeared to have been written by Ms Madikizela-Mandela and is believed to have been leaked to The Guardian - read that the Mandela family was being exploited by the ANC.
It read that it appeared the family did not matter unless "to be used for some agenda".
The report said the ANC was also accused of exploiting Nelson Mandela's birthday next week for "disingenuous reasons at the family's expense". Mr Mandela turns 94 on July 18.