”Imminent” corruption charges against newly elected African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe and the death penalty were all issues that featured prominently in a press briefing on Thursday following Zuma’s closing address to the party’s 52nd national conference in Polokwane.
Zuma’s financial adviser Schabir Shaik is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence after he was found guilty of soliciting bribes on behalf of Zuma.
Initial corruption charges against Zuma were dropped last September when a judge threw them out of court after it emerged the state did not have enough evidence to charge him, but it continued with its investigation. The prospects of Zuma being brought to court climbed sharply last month when he lost a bid to have a series of search warrants declared illegal.
On the possible charges, Zuma on Thursday simply said: ”I will cross that bridge when I come to it.”
Acting national director of public prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe had told 702 Talk Radio: ”The investigation is complete. All that we are doing now is to tie the loose ends. The investigation, with the evidence we have now, points to a case that can be taken to court.
Mpshe said a final decision on when to take action on Zuma was ”imminent”. Asked whether charges would be filed soon, he replied: ”Yes, that’s my impression.”
Asked whether he would still like to have his day in court, as he has been reported as saying, Zuma said that he was at the time faced with a very public investigation against him and he felt that if he had a case to answer, he had to go to court. From this came the allegation that he wanted his day in court.
”You are not expected to answer through the media charges that have not been put to you,” he said.
Mbeki and Zimbabwe
On President Thabo Mbeki, his predecessor as ANC leader, Zuma said: ”He has not been removed from being a leader of the ANC. He is one of the comrades that has the capacity that the ANC needs at all times.”
He said he will continue to work with Mbeki as a comrade and a leader, and as president of the country. Zuma and Mbeki have been meeting regularly — ”every Monday”, said Zuma — and working together as officials of the ANC.
Zuma would not speculate on why so many delegates to the national conference rejected Mbeki so resoundingly.
Another burning issue is that of Zimbabwe, where Mbeki’s policy of quiet diplomacy has been criticised for not having achieved enough positive change in that troubled country. However, Zuma insisted that the status quo will be maintained. ”Mbeki did not do his own thing,” he said.
”The world condemned Zimbabwe and continues to do so,” he added. ”We are dealing with a neighbour whose issues will spill over into South Africa. We decided to engage Zimbabwe on real issues instead of shouting from the rooftops.”
Instituting sanctions against Zimbabwe won’t achieve anything, he believes. ”Nobody else [in the world] has produced anything. We are going to continue with quiet diplomacy.”
He also explained his recently reported comments on the death penalty — that, if the issue ”keeps on coming”, it would be important to know what South Africans feel about it ”so that it can be addressed in the interests of all South Africans”.
These comments, he said, were made at a community meeting at Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats, and he was at the time responding to questions from members of the community and the media. He did not call for a return of the death penalty, he emphasised, but ”if citizens believe the issue should be raised, let them talk about it.”
On thorny issues in the ANC such as the use of state assets and the enforcement of discipline among party members, Zuma said: ”The incoming national executive committee [NEC] will deal with these matters.”
Social spending, he said, is an issue that the government must continuously address. Those who depend on it must be ”turned around and empowered”, for example through more vigorous education policies. This would help address the high levels of unemployment in the country. ”A big percentage of those who are unemployed are, in fact, unemployable.”
However, Zuma refused to be drawn on the issue of Cabinet ministers (specifically Finance Minister Trevor Manuel), premiers and directors general who may now be fearing for their jobs because of their previous political allegiances. ”You must know something I don’t,” he told a reporter.
”The conference was not about electing ministers; it was about electing an NEC,” he said, ignoring a question about a list of names that some Zuma supporters carried into the NEC voting station at Polokwane with them — a list that did not contain, among others, the name of Manuel.
Earlier, in his closing address, Zuma said: ”We cannot have a Zuma camp or a Mbeki camp; there is only one ANC. None among us is above the organisation or bigger than the ANC.”
As expected, much of Zuma’s closing address focused on the need for unity in the ruling party. Divisions born before the conference between Zuma supporters and those of previous party president Thabo Mbeki must be healed, he said.
”The conference is now behind us and we will continue to work together to unite and build a stronger ANC,” Zuma, wearing a green, black and yellow ANC jacket, told delegates in the main conference marquee. The atmosphere differed markedly to that on Sunday, the first day of the conference, when Zuma and Mbeki factions sang opposing songs of support, and some delegates’ unruly behaviour surprised many.
”The occurrences of the first day of conference were indicative of internal problems that need to be sorted out without delay,” said Zuma. ”A lesson we have learnt from this conference is that if the leadership fails to resolve issues, or to grasp the feelings of membership on issues that concern the movement and instead appears to perpetuate the problems, the membership takes over and asserts its authority in ways that we may not be comfortable with.”