ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

UNDER fire from business and church leaders calling for decisive leadership, the African National Congress (ANC) hit back at "mischievous" societal groups wanting to influence the party’s leadership elections next week.

The last week before the Mangaung elections has seen a surge of comment by business leaders and church leaders, criticising the state of leadership in South Africa, moral decay and a lack of direction.

The Presidency welcomed letters written to President Jacob Zuma by church leaders and an open letter by 33 senior business leaders, but hit back, saying all sectors of society had a duty to lead South Africa.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe held an impromptu press conference on Tuesday, where he labelled as "mischievous" and "vitriolic" the letter written by the clergy.

A group of bishops wrote letters to the ANC, opposition parties and business leaders, warning about moral decay and poor leadership. They called on the ruling party not to "settle for mediocrity, but to think deeply about the kind of leaders you appoint as part of a cadre deployment policy and those you elect at your elective conferences. South Africa deserves the best we have."

There is an inference in ANC circles that the criticism is aimed at Mr Zuma, who appears to be leading the race for party president, while his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe is expected to receive sizeable support to put up a strong challenge.

Mr Mantashe said the warning was mischievous and was meant to influence the outcome of the Mangaung conference. He said the bishops needed to engage the ANC, showing respect, instead of engaging in mudslinging that did not distinguish them from politicians.

"We don’t want bishops to be mudslinging with the ANC, because if that begins, there will not be any difference — we will look the same," he said.

"Somebody who taught me some politics, said to me, if you are delivering the post in the streets and a dog comes out to bite you, don’t go on your knees as well and bite it. You stand up and beat it on your feet so the people can see that a dog is biting a person. That is the appeal we are making, we must not all be relegated to crawling on our knees."

He said the bishops suffered from "effects of recency", where leaders used only the most recent event, like the Marikana massacre, to reach a conclusion.

"Once the clergy is impacted upon by the most recent events, it means it can’t help society."

Mr Mantashe said the ANC found it offensive that the pressure was being piled on it ahead of the conference.

"We find that very offensive really, we are taking a big exception to any attempt to influence an ANC conference in an unbecoming way; we are not accepting that," Mr Mantashe said.