An ultimatum was handed over to the ANC by its alliance partners: consult with us on future executive decisions or else.
Sources close to the ANC-led tripartite alliance said Thursday's alliance political council was not as amenable as a later statement on the outcomes of the meeting made it seem.
Instead, the meeting -- which saw the leaders of the alliance formally gather for the first time since President Jacob Zuma's Cabinet reshuffle in March -- was believed to be fraught with forceful debate that mostly saw the ANC on the back foot on various topics.
Sources close to the alliance said Cosatu and SA Communist Party (SACP) leaders went on the offensive when issues such as a lack of consultation in executive decision-making were brought to the table.
"It was a heated engagement. There were some harsh words over Blade Nzimande being fired without any prior engagement. All the feelings were put out on the table. ANC comrades like Gwede Mantashe had to keep stepping in to explain that the alliance is of most importance and the party will find ways to move forward," a source said.
"There was some tension from the SACP and [Nzimande] and [Zuma] did not see eye to eye here and there."
Nzimande, who leads the SACP, was axed from his position as minister of higher education and training in a surprise midday Cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, a move that the SACP said was a "declaration of war" on the alliance.
In a joint statement later on Thursday afternoon, the alliance partners said they were in agreement that relations between the groups "are currently at their lowest levels and committed to a series of measures to address this situation".
"Alliance partners raised issues in a frank and honest manner and agreed that the nature of the issues raised required ongoing engagement. All parties agreed that the alliance must return to holding regular meetings," the statement said.
"The meeting agreed that the Alliance Secretariat will develop a paper on the modalities of a reconfigured alliance... The meeting discussed the prerogative of the president, premiers and mayors to appoint and release members of cabinet, executive councils and mayoral committees."
It is believed the ANC's alliance partners felt like mechanisms put in place for consultation on various parliamentary and executive decisions by the ruling party were being undermined, and if this continued, the alliance would collapse.
It was apparently therefore decided that major decisions relating to Parliament and government would be expressed to the alliance members before being taken.
The mandate of a "reconfigured" alliance would therefore make place for this, forcing consultation upon the ANC.
"If not, the alliance will be reconfigured via the ballots," one source said.
A clear warning to the ruling party, indeed.
Another meeting is scheduled for some time in November.