ANC presidential hopefuls Zweli Mkhize, Lindiwe Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma have pulled out of Daily Maverick's The Gathering event on Thursday.
The three told the organisers on Monday, November 20, that they would not be attending.
A representative from Dlamini-Zuma's office told News24 that she excused herself from the event due to an "ANC deployment which was extended, and other engagements in her calendar had to be moved".
Mkhize's office told News24 that the ANC treasurer-general was sorry he could not make it to the event as he had an "engagement he just couldn't miss".
Welcoming guests, Eyewitness News' editor-in-chief Katy Katopodis said: "It was disappointing, but you can make your own conclusions as to why they did not attend."
Speakers at the event, including EFF leader Julius Malema, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, are expected to discuss the ANC's elective conference in December.
Fears of status quo remaining
One of the speakers, ANC stalwart Mavuso Msimang said the country's politicians had let the nation down.
"That confidence has been seriously been misplaced," said Msimang.
"I do not know what is going to happen in December, but it is going to be an election on faulty ground. My fear is that [beyond] December, if someone wins, the status quo will remain.
"If Cyril wins - I do not know if he will bet with the very thieves that he abandoned."
Msimang said a new way had to be found create "an organisation in which people take a more active role in politics".
Msimang said the manner in which the ANC elected its leaders was fraught with problems which allowed factions, slates and gatekeeping.
"The manner in which the ANC elected its leaders was an ancient system where power was not a factor and the important thing was to get [members] to elect people that would lead the people.
ANC leaders 'all equally to blame'
Msimang said the part of the reason for the meeting of the recent consultative conference spearheaded by the party's veterans was to "overhaul the entire system because it was not working".
Discussing the topic with Msimang was former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, who said blame for the state the ANC finds itself in should not be placed on President Jacob Zuma alone.
"It is not just about the individual and I believe that it boils down to the moral leadership crisis - the leadership of the ANC as a collective. I would not like to apportion blame to only President Jacob Zuma. They are all equally to blame for allowing the rot and the politics of patronage to take over," Khoza said.
"Within the ANC there is a culture of collective responsibility. Within the caucus, we raised issues but once the majority says that we have to defend Nkandla; when you go into the chambers, you cannot deviate from that decision made by the caucus."
She said there were MPs who had become very unpopular, including Gordhan and Derek Hanekom, because they had raised issues within the ANC caucus.
"Corruption is not a victimless crime - it has victims and we are victims of it."
Civil society movement mooted
She said among some of those most affected by corruption were social grants recipients "who get money deducted from their accounts illegally".
She said corruption was at the centre of the disinvestment in the country.
"I honestly do not think the ANC's elective conference in December is going to deliver... "
Without going into details Khoza said civil society was working on establishing a coalition movement that would be an alternative political home for South Africans.
- Additional reporting by Mahlatse Mahlase