African National Congress (ANC)  secretary general Gwede Mantashe has urged President Jacob Zuma to give up his endorsement of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to become the party’s next president, and instead support her as ANC deputy president.

Mantashe was speaking in Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape on Tuesday night, where he was presenting a memorial speech in honour of the late anti-apartheid stalwart and former ANC president OR Tambo.

If the party’s elective conference in December is to be peaceful, Mantashe said in a rare moment of frankness about his own personal views, then Dlamini-Zuma must be deployed as the ANC deputy president. His view was that if current deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa is not Zuma’s successor, there must be an explanation or the party would descend into chaos.

“If a sitting deputy president can not take over from the incumbent, the organisation is owed an explanation,”  he said.

Mantashe also dismissed support for Dlamini-Zuma on the basis that the ANC should have a woman president. He suggested that the rise of Dlamini-Zuma, believed to be Zuma’s safety net to avoid prosecution once he leaves office, would mean that the succession battle inside the party would be a failure of leadership to avoid a disruptive conference. 

“There’s a theory of a woman President. That’s strange. We want a President of the ANC, male or female,” he said.

Earlier this week, Dlamini-Zuma was deployed to the small business committee in Parliament after being sworn in as an MP in September. She is battling against Ramaphosa, ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize, national executive committee member Lindiwe Sisulu and party chairperson Baleka Mbete.

Mantashe’s speech was live-tweeted from his Twitter account, where people online immediately reacted to the secretary general’s belief that Dlamini-Zuma must be deputy president to avoid later chaos.

The Twitter account has been verified as Mantashe’s real account by the ANC.

In September, Mantashe had tweeted from his accountthat it “will be smooth” if Ramaphosa were elected president, and Dlamini-Zuma deputy president. It was the first time he had made public his view on the succession debate after chastising Cosatu and the South African Communist Party for making their endorsements of Ramaphosa public without consulting the ANC structures.

The ANC’s elective conference is set be the party’s most contested battle yet, as Zuma is believed to be preparing his exit strategy to avoid potential prosecution from the so-called spy tapes case and even allegations of state capture.