African National Congress (ANC) secretary general Gwede Mantashe says the circulation of "fake news" of his impending suspension is a desperate act in the fierce battle for leadership ahead of the December elective conference.
The office of the secretary general is seen as powerful ahead of the contested conference.
During an interview with SABC's Special Assignment on Monday evening, Mantashe said the special National Executive Committee, which met over the weekend, had never discussed his suspension.
"It can only come from the ANC. No other person from outside the ANC can even discuss and contemplate suspending the secretary general," he said.
Mantashe labelled the rumours as "fake news".
He said: "You can't work for an organisation for nine years and 11 months and, when you are left with four weeks [to the conference], people have the courage to suspend you. It's not doable."
This was echoed by the party’s parliamentary chief whip Jackson Mthembu, who tweeted: "There was no discussion of removal of SG @GwedeMantashe1 @MYANC NEC or NWC. This is fake news."
The ANC, in an unusual move, also released a statement warning party members and South Africans to be wary of "fake news".
"It never arose in the NEC. I was reading this headline for two days that Mantashe was suspended… the Zuma faction want to suspend Mantashe, and I go to the NEC for three days, it didn't arise once," Mantashe told Special Assignment.
The special NEC which started on Saturday, November 11, was dominated by sharp differences over the fate of the Eastern Cape elective conference, dubbed the "festival of chairs".
President Jacob Zuma loyalists in the NEC, pushed for the Eastern Cape's Provincial Elective Committee to be disbanded after the conference was marred by violence that saw at least seven people hospitalised.
Task team appointed
The special NEC was adjourned to Sunday, to allow for the National Working Committee (NWC) to discuss its report following their Zuma-led visit to the province. The NWC members are said to have contradicted each other during the NEC meeting.
However, it was then abandoned on Sunday, to reconvene on Monday, after the NWC could not conclude deliberations.
The Zuma faction lost their bid on Monday after the meeting agreed to instead appoint a task team to hear the appeal of the disgruntled Eastern Cape members.
The anti-Zuma faction within the NEC argued that the Eastern Cape PEC could not be disbanded while the KwaZulu-Natal PEC was still standing.
A court judgment has nullified the KwaZulu-Natal elective conference; however, the elected PEC still stands as the ANC plans to appeal the court ruling.
Mantashe told Special Assignment that the NEC had dealt with five different reports on the chaotic Eastern Cape conference.
He explained that the first report was compiled by NEC deployees, who had tabled their observations of conference processes.
While the second report came from the elected Eastern Cape PEC, a third was by a section of the old PEC that is appealing the outcome of the conference.
The fourth report was by the old secretariat of the Eastern Cape and the fifth one, an oral report, was of a visit by the NWC to all the regions in the province.
Mantashe attacks Eastern Cape lawyer
Disgruntled Eastern Cape members have since withdrawn their legal challenge against the elective conference.
They are now pinning their hopes on the task team.
Legal counsel for the disgruntled Eastern Cape members, Mvuzo Notyesi, confirmed to News24 that his clients had decided to withdraw their case, which was scheduled to be heard on Wednesday at the Eastern Cape High Court in East London.
Notyesi said he would be making an announcement on their next course of action on Wednesday.
News24 understands the task team appointed by the NEC will not include the previous deployees to the conference, who were Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Zizi Kodwa, Lindiwe Zulu and Jackson Mthembu.
Mantashe said that when there was an appeal, it was important not to push it aside, but rather to allow it to be heard properly, and for the recommendations to be sent to the NEC.
He launched an attack on Notyesi, saying he was "designated to drag the movement to court at any given opportunity".
"There's a lawyer in Mthatha called Notyesi who has no other job other than taking the ANC to court. We expect him to stay there because there is nothing else to do," said Mantashe.