Neither Mbeki nor Zuma

The Mail & Guardian this week reveals the key strategies of leading

tripartite alliance leaders for dealing with the trial of Jacob Zuma and the presidential succession.

Senior leaders, who meet informally, want to convince African National Congress president Thabo Mbeki and his deputy Zuma not to stand for election as party president and to find a compromise candidate to preserve unity in the ruling party.

“You love this country, you love the ANC and therefore you can’t be at the centre of its destruction,” is the nub of an argument that some ANC national executive committee (NEC) members are planning to convey to Zuma by lobbying his closest political aides.

Their strategy will involve encouraging Zuma not to stand, but to have a role in the choice of a compromise candidate. In turn, the front coalescing in support of a fair trial for Zuma will work toward ensuring he is granted a presidential pardon should he be prosecuted and found guilty. The lobbyists then envisage that he will be granted political retirement.

A highly placed alliance source told the M&G discussions were under way on how best to manage the Zuma affair. Our political team spoke to at least 15 senior leaders in the ANC NEC; senior leaders in Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) affiliate unions; the most powerful provinces and in the youth structures.

These moves follow a deepening crisis in the ANC, threatened with a disabling split between Mbeki and Zuma factions. The tension was sparked by Mbeki’s decision in May this year to fire Zuma as deputy president after the verdict in the Schabir Shaik trial, which found Shaik and Zuma had a “generally corrupt” relationship.

Zuma’s most high-profile backer, Cosatu, this week said that those who questioned the reasonableness of its demands around Zuma failed to understand the deep-seated anger among its members. “There is a deep-seated belief in Cosatu that there is a politically inspired conspiracy to deal with the future of JZ [Jacob Zuma],” said general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Among its demands, believed to have been rejected by the ANC at the tripartite meeting this week, are that charges against Zuma be dropped and that he be reinstated as deputy president of the country.

The alternative strategy is to build a powerful front in support of Zuma to ensure that a political solution — such as a pardon — is granted.

As part of the mass mobilisation, Cosatu launched the “million signature campaign” in KwaZulu-Natal and announced it is working on forming a Jacob Zuma Solidarity Front to ensure that he gets a fair trial.

Despite being unable to settle the differences around Zuma, the alliance decided to project unity on the issue.

“We can’t trample on the rule of the law. We all agreed to speak in one voice in support of Zuma and internally manage the fallout on him,” said a senior member of the alliance who attended this week’s alliance meeting.

The official said the meeting also raised concerns about the manner in which Zuma’s investigation had been handled from the start. “We agreed there must be consistency in the application of the law,” the source said.

Mbeki’s remarks in a TV interview earlier this year that he might stay for another term is seen by many in the alliance as a challenge to Zuma.

“We are currently working on a strategy which will involve convincing comrades next to Zuma to persuade him not to stand as a presidential candidate for the ANC in 2007,” said a Cosatu official.

To balance the strategy, the official said, the team would also approach the Mbeki camp to convince the ANC president not to stand for re-election, as this might also fuel tensions in the democratic movement.

Two ANC NEC members said there was consensus that Zuma is “a spent force” in regard to the presidency, but that his influence could be used to lobby for a candidate acceptable to the left.

But Zuma’s supporters in Cosatu accept the possibility that their demands for withdrawal of charges may not be met and have decided to push for a presidential pardon if he is convicted. Cosatu has already asked for a full Bench to hear the matter if the National Prosecuting Authority persists with the case.

“We will probably lose the first leg, of having charges dropped, but we want to sustain pressure throughout the trial which Mbeki cannot ignore, whatever the outcome,” a Cosatu official said.

The National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Vusi Pikoli said: “If I allowed anybody else to influence our decision or to use us for their own motives, I would be undermining one of the most important institutions of our democracy.”

Pikoli acknowledged that the raids were unnecessarily militaristic and heavy-handed.

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Matuma Letsoala
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Rapule Tabane
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Vicki Robinson
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