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Ramaphosa heckling triggers backlash in South Africa’s ANC

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

Party allies, and even some rivals, of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday condemned opponents who disrupted his opening speech with chants and shouting at a conference of the ruling ANC on Friday.

Ramaphosa was speaking at the start of a five-day gathering during which members of the African National Congress (ANC) will elect candidates for national elections in 2024.

But amid raucous chants of “Out, Ramaphosa, out!”, he could barely be heard, his words drowned out for several minutes before the hecklers quietened down.

Ramaphosa is widely seen as the strongest candidate as he seeks a second presidential term, but he faces strong opposition from a rival ANC faction that is calling for him to quit over a scandal involving the discovery of a stash of cash at his farm.

Ramaphosa has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crimes.

“We must condemn (the disruption) because it’s not the behaviour of the ANC membership,” Siboniso Duma, chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial ANC, the single biggest power block trying to get Ramaphosa removed.

“You can’t just (make noise) when the president is speaking,” he told broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, reflecting a backlash against the heckling incident that some people said could leave the president stronger than he looked on Friday.

The ANC’s presidential candidate has been a shoe-in for the country’s top job ever since the party’s leading light Nelson Mandela ended white minority rule in 1994.

Ramaphosa’s political woes have galvanised supporters of former President Jacob Zuma, who is himself being investigated for allegedly colluding with three Indian businessman to siphon off state funds during his tenure between 2009 and 2018 – charges he denies.

But some people said Friday’s incident could backfire on Ramaphosa’s party foes.

“That was completely out of order. What they did yesterday soiled (their) campaign,” Zamani Saul, Northern Cape ANC chairperson told SABC news.

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