South African President Jacob Zuma says the growing tension within the ranks of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party may derail the party’s mission to remain the custodian of the country’s democratic gains.

Speaking at the ceremony to commemorate the 99th birthday of the party’s late stalwart Oliver Tambo in Benoni, about 37 kilometres east of here, Thursday, Zuma said: “As we commemorate him let’s work on solutions, not problems. Let’s unite and not see enemies amongst ourselves. If we don’t do that the task to lead this country will be more difficult.”

Oliver Reginald Tambo was a long serving president of the ANC, leading the party in exile for a period spanning more than three decades. Together with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, they formed the militant ANC Youth League in 1944.

He is described as the ANC’s moral compass in exile. He passed away on April 24 1993 after suffering a stroke, Oct 27, 2016 would have marked his 99th birthday.

Hundreds of people converged at Tamboville Cemetery to come pay homage to a man affectionately known as OR. President Zuma laid a wreath at his burial site before delivering a keynote address.

The president used his speech to reflect on Tambo’s legacy. However, President Zuma was compelled to comment about the on-going public spats within the ANC.

ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu caused a stir when he called for the resignation of the entire AN National Executive Committee (NEC) following the poor performance at the August municipal polls. Mthembu’s utterances sparked a fierce outburst from his detractors.

President Zuma invoked Tambo’s legacy and warned that disunity and lack of discipline could destroy the ANC.

The Executive Mayor of Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, also laid into Mthembu, accusing him of poor discipline. He said: “We can’t allow the movement to be torn apart because of ill-discipline. O.R. Tambo left the ANC intact and we would want President Zuma to leave the ANC intact.”

Meanwhile, President Zuma said the current socio-economic challenges in South Africa should not propel the nation into despair. The ANC-led government has been battling with containing discontentment over poor service delivery, high cost of living, and a wave of protests over university fee hikes.

President Zuma has appealed to citizens to exercise patience and allow the government to address their plight: “We as the country owe an eternal debt of gratitude to O.R. Tambo. We must never allow ourselves to descent to the levels despondency during challenges and hurdles.”