South African Communist Party (SACP) boss Blade Nzimande maintained a five-seat distance between himself and President Jacob Zuma during an alliance political council meeting at Luthuli House on Thursday.
The meeting marks the first time the leaders of the tripartite alliance have gathered for a formal consultation since Zuma reshuffled his Cabinet at the end of March this year.
It comes at a time when the relationship between the members is arguably at its worst, with both Cosatu and the SACP calling for the president's head to roll. Cosatu has banned Zuma from addressing their gatherings, while the SACP called for him to step down after he axed Nzimande from his position as the minister of higher education and training.
The media were invited to the ANC's headquarters for a very brief midday photoshoot. Outside, dozens of presidential security vehicles blocked the street, while a dozen police motorcycles lined the pavement. When ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni ushered journalists into the large boardroom, there were smiles and laughter from those seated at the meeting.
At the head of the table sat Zuma –- with his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, on one side and Cosatu boss Sdumo Dlamini on the other. Next to Dlamini was ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte, party treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, and only then the SACP delegation.
Nzimande sat next to his second-in-charge, Solly Mapaila, while the party's chairperson Senzeni Zokwana sat alongside Ramaphosa on the other side of the room.
When the media entered, the delegates were all smiles, as journalists hopped over a table to get close-up shots of Zuma, who chuckled along.
No questions were allowed.
The atmosphere, whether unintentional or not, was not one that would be expected from an alliance in chaos.
Cosatu general-secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali, who was also present, told News24 ahead of the meeting that the alliance had collapsed.
"We can't wait until December to start reconstituting the alliance," he reportedly said.
After the photo opportunity had concluded, Duarte met journalists at the doors of Luthuli House, saying she could not give any comment on how the discussions are going. She said matters that were discussed concerned calls for Zuma to step down and how the alliance works. Zuma's recent Cabinet reshuffle is also said to be on the agenda.