The African National Congress (ANC) is not divided right down the middle, said party leader Jacob Zuma in a South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) television interview on Wednesday evening.
However, he admitted: ”I’m definitely concerned.”
This followed a week of political drama in which former ANC chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota was suspended and Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa resigned from the party. Both have conveyed that a new party may arise from a national convention scheduled for November 2.
Last week, Lekota and his former defence deputy, Mluleki George, said they were concerned that the ANC had moved away from its founding principles.
Lekota suggested the national convention to gauge how people felt about developments in the party. These included the national executive committee (NEC) asking president Thabo Mbeki to resign in September after a court judgement setting aside corruption charges against Zuma.
Asked on Wednesday whether unity in the ANC was under severe threat, Zuma said: ”Not necessarily. You have a few comrades who have very strong feelings about decisions in the organisation who decide to part with the organisation. It is a challenge we have to deal with in a manner that is responsible.”
ANC members have to observe its procedures and traditions when trying to resolve matters, he said. ”People now just jump out and say, ‘There are problems here, I’m leaving.”’
On the party losing some of its most prominent leaders, Zuma said: ”I’m very careful of us using the word of ANC division.”
He added: ”There may be special issues in the Western Cape [where there have been rallies apparently in support of Lekota] that make that province look a particular way. Even before Terror [Lekota] went there, at the provincial conference people were not happy. It cannot be assumed this is what is happening throughout the country.”
Looking at the rallies, Zuma said there may be many reasons why people attended in numbers, for example to hear what Lekota had to say. ”You can’t take a tally of people and say it is for one reason.”
Zuma said he had earlier left a meeting of the NEC where the Lekota and Shilowa matter was still being discussed. ”The NEC is looking at the conclusions of the national working committee … also, how to address members with grievances, and how to handle the matter going forward,” he said.
Earlier in the week Zuma had said that ”radical action” needed to be taken against suspended ANC members. On Wednesday evening, though, he said he had nothing specific in mind, adding that ”to suspend is radical action”.
”There is no organisation that could stand when people attempt to undermine or destroy it,” he said.
He bemoaned the actions of party members ”who did not come to the structures and raised the matters [that bothered them]. They just say, ‘We can’t discuss matters.’ No one is saying, ‘I tried all the avenues.”’
Asked whether he would support the expulsion of suspended members, he said: ”After a suspension there is a process that is followed in the ANC. What determines expulsion is how those procedures are followed … If the ANC arrives at the conclusion of expulsion, that will be my decision as well. That is how we operate in the ANC.”
On the ANC’s decision to recall Mbeki as national president, taken at a meeting of the NEC at Esselen Park last month, Zuma said it was a very thorough decision.
Addressing public concerns regarding the removal of the president of the country by the ANC, he said the population elects an organisation in which it has confidence, unlike in the United States where the president is elected.
”It is the party that campaigns and puts across its policies to the people. Then the party nominate [a president] among themselves … It’s what goes with democracy and political decisions in the world. It is part of the package in a democratic situation.”
The ANC leader expressed faith in the ANC’s continued strength at polling stations come next year’s general election. ”We all joined the ANC voluntarily because we believe in its vision and policy, not because of who is there … Every election analysts have said the ANC is going down, but we have been increasing the percentage.”
When asked whether he supported Judge Chris Nicholson’s suggestion of an inquiry into the multibillion-rand arms deal, Zuma would not be drawn.
”That judgement is around my case and I have always avoided discussing the case outside court,” he said. ”It would not be wise for me to discuss. I do have views, but at this time, no.”
Meanwhile, the DA questioned the SABC’s interviewing of Zuma, saying it would be better to foster national debate or host one between Zuma and Lekota.
”Why not stage the debate that former president Thabo Mbeki wants with Zuma about the role that the Nicholson judgement played in his resignation?” said Dene Smuts.
She said the SABC is partially funded by television licences and does not exist ”to provide special opportunities for particular political parties to punt their agendas” with an election so close.
”Any attempt to provide such special opportunities inevitably creates the impression that the SABC is subservient to the governing party,” Smuts said.