/ 6 January 2008

ANC to discuss Zuma’s graft case

The corruption charge against Jacob Zuma, the new head of the African National Congress (ANC), is on the agenda of the first meeting since his election of the party’s national executive council (NEC) on Monday, the party secretary general said on Sunday.

”The corruption charge against Zuma is on the agenda. It [NEC] will deal with the issue but it will not be the major focus of the meeting,” Gwede Mantashe, said.

”We will handle the issue in a way that it will not affect the nation’s judiciary process,” he said, without further explanation.

Zuma (65), who was elected ANC president about two weeks ago, was on December 28 charged with fraud, corruption, money laundering, racketeering and tax evasion following a probe that also implicated French arms manufacturing group Thales.

The trial of Zuma, who married his fourth wife on Saturday, is scheduled for August 4.

Two leading South African jurists on Saturday said that the graft case against Zuma, which has attracted local and international attention, should be settled by the courts alone.

In a statement, Arthur Chaskalson, the first post-apartheid head of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, and George Bizos, ex-defence lawyer for former president Nelson Mandela, said the courts must be allowed to decide on the matter.

”Putting pressure on the courts by making serious allegations of partiality, uttering threats of massive demonstrations and expressing opinions in intemperate language are harmful to the judicial process, to our constitutional democracy and to our country’s reputation,” the statement, sent to the South African Press Association, said.

Given the ANC’s dominance of South African politics since the end of the whites-only apartheid rule in 1994, Zuma would normally expect to become the country’s president after President Thabo Mbeki’s second term of office expires in 2009.

He has said he will stand down from the ANC if found guilty of any offence but he has steadfastly insisted on his innocence.

Zuma was sacked by Mbeki in 2005 after his financial adviser was found guilty of soliciting bribes on his behalf.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, one of Zuma’s biggest backers, condemned the move by the National Prosecuting Authority to charge Zuma with corruption as a ”politically inspired campaign” using state institutions to settle factional battles within the ANC.

His other supporters said that Zuma, believed to be on frosty terms with Mbeki, was the victim of a ”political vendetta”.

The ANC national executive meeting in Johannesburg will, among other things, also elect a 20-member national working committee (NWC) to oversee the day-to-day running of the party, Mantashe said.

Zuma and members of the ANC executive were elected at the party’s conference in Polokwane.

The meeting will also discuss the contents of the ANC’s yearly ”January 8” statement.

The statement, which gives the policy direction of the party, is given annually to mark the anniversary of the ANC.

The ANC, which turns 96 on January 8, led the struggle against whites-only minority apartheid rule.

‘Two centres of power’

Meanwhile, the election of the all-powerful NWC on Monday would likely be an indication of how the party dealt with the issue of two centres of power, political analyst Adam Habib, from the University of Johannesburg, said on Sunday.

”Firstly, the two centres of power, clearly this is going to be the time to manage relations between the two [state and party]. This may well be a big item on the agenda.

”It will be interesting to see how the NWC elections turn out — if people from both camps are elected then it will be what the president [Jacob Zuma] wanted in his closing address in Polokwane, to see unity,” said Habib.

”If the Zuma camps takes the NWC, this will set the parameter for how conflict will evolve.

”The big issue is going to be how to bridge divide between party and state,” he said.

Mbeki was likely to cut a lone figure at Monday’s meeting with many of his key allies no longer on the party’s NEC. — AFP, Sapa