African National Congress chief whip Jackson Mthembu has said he never thought his party would have to deal with the level of “sleaze” emanating from within in the run-up to its presidential elections.

Mthembu spoke to the media this week following a report in the Sunday Independent alleging that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was engaged in at least eight extramarital affairs.

He said the allegations were party of a dirty tricks campaign to discredit Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa has dismissed the allegations as a political smear campaign, admitting to only one affair, that he said ended eight years ago.

Former party spokesperson Mthembu was adamant that the allegations were only part of a ploy to damage Ramaphosa’s campaign promises to clean up the party.

“They are sleaze, they are below the belt campaigning with one purpose: Of discrediting the deputy president from becoming the president of the ANC in December,” he said emphatically.

“What is behind this so-called exposé by the Sunday Independent and other people like Kenny Kunene is meant to stop the deputy president.”

Businessman Kunene has also released information about one of the woman who, he claims, is linked to Ramaphosa in the leaked private emails. He has, however, provided no evidence of any relationship between them.

Mthembu admitted that it was not the first time that a disinformation campaign had surfaced ahead of ANC leadership contests. The sensitive nature of the revelations, however, made it particularly distasteful.

“[And] not just in relation to the deputy president, but also those who are supportive of him may be targeted with this sleaze and this dirt.

“I didn’t think our movement could get so low. It’s very unfortunate that bedroom politics has defined campaigning in the movement.”

It was no surprise that the story had come in the week that the ANC’s nomination process for new leadership had opened, he said.

Worse still, he believed the episodes would get worse in the three-month run-up to the party’s elective conference in December. The expected escalation may not even spare him, Mthembu said.

“If President Ramaphosa can be [targeted], who are we, those of us who are following him?”

Mthembu acknowledged that the apparent infighting would send the message that the party’s leadership was in “bad shape.

“We ourselves have said we are in bad shape. We have factions, we are divided, and this clearly illustrates the point that the ANC has made: We are a house divided.

“But I don’t have a problem, in any organisation there are divisions… but I never thought these divisions would be occasioned by personal, private bedroom matters.

“When you throw that into the campaign, you want to undress the person, discredit that person, character assassinate a person about who he is or not sleeping with, my problem is, that doesn’t deal with the national democratic revolution.”