Zuma will remain the face of the ANC's election campaign even if he is charged again with fraud, racketeering and corruption, three senior ANC leaders told the Mail & Guardian this week.
ANC national executive committee (NEC) member Billy Masetlha, KwaZulu-Natal ANC secretary Sihle Zikalala and Free State Premier Ace Magashule all said in separate interviews that Zuma will lead the party to victory in the 2014 general elections. They also ruled out the possibility of new ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa stepping in as the face of the party's campaign in the event that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is forced to reinstate charges against Zuma. They maintain that Zuma should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Masetlha, in particular, wants the issues that continue to cast a cloud over Zuma to be addressed, including the so-called spy tapes and the perception that he and the party are corrupt. He also believes the ANC could be doing more to communicate the facts around the upgrade of Zuma's homestead at Nkandla.
He said such a strategy would help to jettison the baggage that Zuma may carry into the national and provincial elections in 2014.
Masetlha challenged the NPA to release the tapes to the Democratic Alliance to avoid creating an impression that Zuma has something to hide.
"It would be the most important thing for the NPA to give the tapes to the DA. I would say hallelujah. But I would still go 100% behind Zuma. It is wrong of the NPA to ignore the court order. It creates the impression that we do not respect the independence of the judiciary.
The spy tapes
"The fact of the matter is that it is not the ANC that is refusing to release the tapes. It is the NPA. We [the ANC] are not afraid of anything. It is wishful thinking to say Zuma will be re-charged. The NPA can issue those tapes," said Masetlha. The former spy boss maintained there was nothing serious or damning in the tapes.
The DA believes that the tapes will show that former NPA head Mokotedi Mpshe's decision to drop the charges of racketeering, corruption, fraud and money laundering against Zuma just before the 2009 general election was incorrect and based on flimsy evidence. The Sunday Times reported in November that most NPA prosecutors were vehemently opposed to Mpshe's decision to withdraw the charges as they believed the state had a strong case against Zuma.
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said Zuma would use next week's January 8 statement to outline the party's strategy ahead of the elections.
"He [Zuma] will talk about our preparedness for the 2014 general elections. We need to maintain our presence in all the provinces and improve on what we gained in 2009. We'd obviously like to win the Western Cape, but we are also being realistic. It may not happen in 2014, but it will happen at some stage. The Western Cape cannot continue to be an island in a sea of democracy," said Mthembu.
The party's election strategy is expected to include a renewed focus on growing the economy, creating jobs, promoting the national development plan and intensifying the fight against corruption.
Some ANC leaders have also raised concerns about the party's image and the negative impact on the election campaign if Zuma is subpoenaed to testify before the arms deal commission, which is expected to get under way soon. Zuma's dirty linen is also due to be exposed when public protector Thuli Madonsela finalises her report into how his Nkandla homestead was funded with an estimated R250-million of taxpayers' money.
One party, one president
Masetlha, Zikalala and Magashule said the party will defend Zuma's right to lead it to the crucial 2014 national elections.
Said Masetlha: "There is only one president in the ANC. The fact that Ramaphosa is the deputy president will not make a difference. The president of the ANC remains the face of the election campaign. If there is any change of policy, it must go to the national conference. Whoever is saying Cyril must become the face of the ANC campaign is out of his mind. There is no reason to change the party's policy on who should lead and be the face of the ANC election campaign," Masetlha said.
ANC leaders must begin to defend Zuma against attacks about his Nkandla home, allegations of corruption and the public perception that he is an indecisive leader, he said.
"The ANC has not done enough to defend Zuma on these issues. All these allegations against the president are not true. We must stand up against the attack from the body politic. We are allowing the enemies to have the upper hand on the revolution. The day this revolution goes, we will lose so badly. I know countries that took long to recover after losing the revolution. When there is an allegation against the president, the ANC must not sit back and say it is a government matter," said Masetlha.
The party's decline in the previous national polls was caused by a lack of effective communication and perceptions that it was not serious about fighting corruption, he said.
"Our communication is not sharp enough. We are worried about the perceptions that the ANC and its leaders were corrupt. The ANC is not responding spontaneously to attacks and unfounded allegations against its leaders. The reason our support declined in the last election is because of perceptions and lack of effective communication."
He added: "[Chinese communist leader] Mao Zedong said if lies continue to be repeated, they become the truth. This is what our enemies are doing. We need to deal with this. The moment we bow down to liberal thinking, we will have serious problems in our hands."
Magashule predicted that Zuma will emerge stronger after the 2014 elections. "He [Zuma] will be the face of our campaign even if he is charged. A person is innocent until proven guilty. Nobody is guilty until proven otherwise. The case by the DA and these unfounded allegations of using taxpayers' money to upgrade Nkandla won't affect the election campaign.
"The man has done better as president and needs to be appreciated for that. Since he came in, we now have the national development plan. He has also come up with the strategic infrastructure project, which will see for the first time government spending a trillion [rand] on infrastructure projects. This has never happened before. It is a plus for somebody [who] we keep on saying didn't go to school," said Magashule.
Zikalala, who was one of Zuma's key re-election campaigners at Mangaung, said the party would not allow "a situation where allegations are used to discredit" Zuma.
"These are to me allegations that are not proven," he said about perceptions that the "spy tapes" might contain information that would prompt a review of the decision to withdraw charges against the ANC president.
Zikalala said Zuma would charm voters in 2014 because last month's leadership conference outcomes "appeal to a wider spectrum of South Africans. You talk about business people, religious leaders, young people."
For the elections, though, resolutions taken at the Mangaung conference – such as economic transformation – will be used, he said.
He added: "The fact that we've got long-term planning for our country means that we must make sure the plan is implemented properly."
An ANC NEC member who asked not to be named said Zuma's potential legal woes will not harm the party in any way because "we are going to be placing a lot of responsibilities on Cyril Ramaphosa".
The NEC member said the strategy will be to highlight the party's programmes. "We've now adopted the national development plan as a programme of the ANC. We must make sure that a focus is put on implementation. As you deal with these issues, you'll automatically be dealing with issues of image. We want to emphasise the image of the party, not an individual," he said.
Magashule, however, said that the ANC will not single out Ramaphosa for any role during the election campaign.
"He is part of the collective. He is going to strengthen the collective in terms of his experience and his exposure to business and the global village. I think that his experience, combined with his organisational experience [from the National Union of Mineworkers and the ANC], will make the party even stronger. But there's no way we can single him out because the collective will be taking the decisions," said Magashule.