President Jacob Zuma’s survival in this week’s ANC national executive committee (NEC) was thanks to a highly organised but minority group of guardians who have long kept the president safe.
But for the first time, and defying threats of retribution, a growing chorus from the ANC’s inner circle is speaking out against Zuma.
Whereas Zuma has faced a barrage of criticism from the public over the years, this week ANC veterans, struggle stalwarts and civil society leaders united to take the battle to remove the president to the streets.
Senior members of the NEC, the highest decision-making body in the ANC, spoke of their support for the civil society initiative that hopes to topple Zuma from office.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe warned on Thursday that ANC members should confine calls for Zuma’s sacking to discussions inside the party – or “pay the price”.
NEC member Enoch Godongwana said ANC members “must occupy streets and don’t leave it to others. We are a democratic organisation where members must be free to demonstrate their views, including in public.”
He added that ANC veterans who had joined civil society to put pressure on Zuma to resign were doing so “not out of malice, but out of a genuine desire of refocusing the ANC on its core values: integrity, transparency and good governance”.
Their ranks included former deputy secretary general Cheryl Carolus and former home affairs director general Mavuso Msimang, who announced a course of civil society-led action on the steps of the Constitutional Court on Wednesday.
Later that evening, Msimang told a meeting of the ANC’s Liliesleaf branch in Midrand that those in the ANC’s leadership who were not speaking out about the ills in the party had been “Guptarised”.
An NEC member, who asked to remain anonymous, said the ANC needed to do what was in the best interests of the party.
“I empathise with the calls [that Zuma must step down],” he said, adding that the ANC would act on Zuma when the time was right. “We won’t be controlled by opposition [parties] and civil society – even if we know they are right.”
Zuma supporters ‘dragging out the inevitable’
A meeting of the extended ANC national working committee, also attended by members of the NEC, most of whom serve in Zuma’s administration as ministers and deputy ministers, this week accepted Zuma’s apology.
This came after the Constitutional Court found that he had failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution by not complying with the public protector’s remedial action to pay back a portion of the R246-million spent on what were meant to be security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead.
ANC MPs used their majority in Parliament to unanimously reject a motion by the Democratic Alliance to impeach the president.
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An ANC insider told the M&G that there were only about 30 in the party’s 86-member NEC who supported Zuma, but that the group was well organised. “They make sure they caucus before every meeting, and they make sure their position emerges.”
The South African Communist Party’s central committee meeting this past weekend resolved that Zuma’s apology was not enough, implying that he should step down.
Central committee members who are also in the ANC NEC include Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, treasurer Joyce Moloi-Meropa, Mantashe, Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle, head of Parliament’s portfolio committee on energy Fikile Majola and Planning Minister Jeff Radebe.
Shaka Sisulu, grandson of the ANC struggle icon Walter Sisulu, also backed calls for Zuma to step down.
The ANC insider said many of those opposed to Zuma served in the Cabinet and were therefore afraid to express themselves, presumably out of fear of falling victim to a reshuffle.
Discussions in Monday’s extraordinary national working committee meeting – also attended by NEC members – were apparently narrowed down to whether members accepted Zuma’s apology.
“That put many [NEC members] in a corner, because if you say no, you appear vindictive,” said a senior ANC leader who attended the meeting, adding that Zuma’s days as the country’s president were numbered.
“They [the Zuma supporters] are just dragging out the inevitable. Remember, we still have the spy tapes case. What will his supporters say if the court rules to reinstate corruption charges against him?”
Judgment in the spy tapes case, brought by the DA in the Pretoria high court, was reserved last month and is expected soon.
“The second thing is the issue of the Guptas. There is no way he [Zuma] will escape the Gupta issue,” said the ANC leader.
The ANC decided during its NEC meeting in February to probe allegations linked to the Guptas’ supposed undue influence on ANC deployees.
The source said Zuma would have to explain to the party why Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane travelled to Glencore in Switzerland with a delegation from a Gupta-owned company, Tegeta Exploration and Resources, to negotiate the purchase of a coal mine.
“The president is responsible for the approval of all the trips taken by ministers. There is no way that he did not know about the Zwane trip. He approved it,” he said.
‘Zuma is not the ANC’
Former ANC Veterans’ League president and NEC member Sandi Sejake has added his voice to the growing chorus of party veterans speaking out. He said he did not have much trust in ANC branches to do the “right thing” and remove Zuma, because they had been “captured” by those in power using state resources.
Mantashe this week urged ANC members to keep their criticism of Zuma within the party, saying any negative talk by ANC leaders, veterans and branches would be remembered by the public ahead of the local government elections, taking place on August 3.
A protestor pretends to set fire to a copy of the country’s Constitution outside Parliament ahead of the impeachment motion against President Jacob Zuma. (Rodger Bosch, AFP)
“[As] ANC members, we must debate these issues and engage society, but if they choose to take public platforms and look good by insulting the president, they’ll pay the price, obviously.”
He said this would give opposition parties room to strengthen themselves.
“We’re going to the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality next week to campaign hard … We have a chance to actually retain the Nelson Mandela [metro]. In Gauteng, actions there are actually handing over Gauteng to the opposition by ANC members themselves,” said Mantashe.
But Msimang, who has just been appointed chairperson of Corruption Watch, told the Liliesleaf branch meeting in Midrand on Wednesday that a lack of “decisive action” by the ANC could lose the party votes. He said the party should find a way to oust Zuma without humiliating him.
Msimang said the party should work on a timetable of action that stretched over six months. “If some action had been taken that was considered by many in the public to be decisive, we would win this election hands down. We would,” he said to loud applause.
Msimang’s sentiments were shared by Liliesleaf branch secretary Pat Baloyi, who said it would cost the ANC in the election if its members didn’t speak out about Zuma’s recall.
“We are on the ground … we are the people doing the street work, and we are not speaking out as loud as we are supposed to – [that] is the thing that is costing us,” he said. “The upper structures are dilly-dallying; that is what is costing us.”
He added: “A lot of what they are saying is looking very silly in the eyes of the public. We are working with the masses and are in [direct] contact with the voters.”
Baloyi warned if the voice of the branches was not listened to, the country could be faced with mass action. “The next thing that’s gonna happen is you’re going to have to use the military to stop the people, and when that happens you defeat the purpose of democracy.”
Bosa Ledwaba, the ANC Women’s League chairperson in Rustenburg in the North West Province, said the ANC was already paying a price for allowing Zuma to stay in power.
“What the president did was wrong. The people are leaving the ANC; we can no longer even campaign for this election because we don’t know what to tell the people,” she said.
She said criticising the president was not an insult: it would redeem the ANC. “Zuma is not the ANC and some of us, we are not going to compromise our organisations. If we can, and that is exactly what we are going to try to do, [we will] take Zuma out as the president of the country and as the president of the ANC.”