​Zuma says ANC will fix its mistakes and remain united

"Under the day’s theme of “unity in action”, Zuma called for unity within the ANC, urging the party to wash out 'evil practices'." (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

"Under the day’s theme of “unity in action”, Zuma called for unity within the ANC, urging the party to wash out 'evil practices'." (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

President Jacob Zuma delivered his final January 8 anniversary address in front of a packed Orlando Stadium in Soweto, signalling the first of many last events he would address as president of the ANC.

The 40 000-seat stadium was filled to capacity, with even the overflow area failing to hold all of the supporters who had been bussed in from across the country.

Supporters were transported mainly from the so-called “premier league” provinces which include the Free State, Mpumalanga and North West. KwaZulu-Natal had 189 busses traveling from the province to hear Zuma’s address.

Under the day’s theme of “unity in action”, Zuma called for unity within the ANC, urging the party to wash out “evil practices” which he said were tainting the organisation. These included gatekeeping, factionalism and the abuse of internal democratic processes.

With the ANC having declared 2017 the year of Oliver Tambo, Zuma said the party would focus on renewing itself and also on following the principle of humility espoused by Tambo.

“The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs. Our own research and interactions with members of the ANC demonstrate clearly that the people abhor the apparent preoccupation with personal gain. People are clear: their main priorities are jobs, fighting crime and corruption.”

In a scathing address at a commemoration for South African Communist Party leader Joe Slovo, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa agreed with the concerns raised by unhappy supporters, lashing out at hypocritical leaders within the ANC.

“Today we have leaders who always stand up on platforms and say a whole lot of things but do exactly the opposite of what they are saying. Joe Slovo was not that type of leader. He never pretended he knew everything,” he said.

Municipal elections and voter anger

The ANC came out of a difficult 2016, which saw it attaining disappointing results in the municipal elections. Zuma said the party had heard clearly the message sent by supporters who chose to withhold their votes; seeing the ANC move from having 62% of the national vote in 2011 to 54% in 2016.

“At the same time, the ANC has heard the message that the people delivered in August 2016. We accept that we have made mistakes and shall correct these mistakes,” he said.

The 2016 municipal elections saw the rise of coalition politics, which forced the ANC into a peculiar position in provinces such as Gauteng where two key metros are now under the leadership of the DA. This has highlighted the need for effective cooperative governance at provincial and local level.

Zuma called on leaders to put party political interests aside for the national good and learn to disagree without fighting.

Succession and branch responsibility

2017 is likely to see more challenges within the ANC in the form of deepening factions as well as lobby groups as the party heads to its national conference

Zuma called on branches to maintain their integrity as they prepared to elect a new leadership and not to allow the process to be tainted by personal interest.

“Branches of the ANC are the basic units and a repository of all decisions of the ANC. The power of ANC branches must therefore not be undermined by slates and lobby groups”.

Zuma urged branches to first start deliberations on the principles of quality leaders, before starting to discuss specific names.

“ANC leaders must demonstrate a desire and commitment to serve the people. They must have a proven track record and be able to organise and inspire the masses to be their own liberators. Leaders must have demonstrated capacity to unite and guide our movement”.

But his comments came a day too late as they followed a statement released by the ANC Women’s League on Saturday, which publicly pronounced its support for outgoing African Union chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in the succession race.

ANC and corruption

Although Zuma spoke at length about unity within the ANC he also specified that unity would not be used as a shield to protect those executing corrupt activity. He urged ANC members to report those among them who are known to be dealing in unethical activity.

“We call on our people to work with the criminal justice system and to report all instances of crime and corruption. Let us unite in the face of these criminals who seek to undermine our freedom.”

However, despite calling on members to report corruption, Zuma himself has failed to report those he knows to be involved in misconduct. During an address in Pietermaritzburg last year, he told ANC supporters that he knew those who were involved in corrupt activity, but would remain mum and reveal details in a tell-all book at some point.

“The truth is I am not a thief and there is no evidence to support this claim. That is why I am not bothered by such accusations. The truth is those who are accusing me of stealing are the ones who are enriching themselves through theft. I know who they are,” he said.

Overall Zuma urged ANC branches and structures to use 2017, the year of Oliver Tambo, to deepen their unity and give South Africans hope.  

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