Supporters of former president Jacob Zuma will “nationalise” their campaign in his defence and hold simultaneous marches outside the high court divisions across South Africa during his court appearances on corruption and fraud charges.
ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal and the eThekwini region have closed ranks around Zuma, showing support for him in their “individual capacity” by participating in a night vigil and march ahead of his appearance on Friday morning.
The party’s national executive committee has instructed members who do attend court in support of Zuma to refrain from wearing party colours or regalia, “creating the false impression that the ANC as an organisation identifies with, or approves of, the misdemeanours of which any member or leader may be accused” .
On Wednesday, Zuma’s supporters used his visit to the home of deceased ANC stalwart Winnie Madikizela-Mandela to show solidarity with him ahead of his court appearance. The group sang songs praising Zuma and arrived wearing T-shirts with his portrait on them.
The support campaign is likely to place further pressure on the party’s fragile unity, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province, whose leaders backed the failed bid to elect Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as ANC president.
Bishop Vusi Dube, an ANC provincial legislature member in KwaZulu-Natal who has emerged as one of the key organisers of the Defend Zuma campaign, said the alliance of religious leaders, Black First Land First and KwaZulu-Natal-based business lobby groups believes a huge show of strength will give rise to a national movement in support of Zuma.
Dube, the founder of eThekwini Community Church International, is co-convener of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa and the Commission for Religious Affairs, which is co-ordinating the vigil and march in support of Zuma.
Dube is a veteran of the 2006 campaign to keep Zuma out of jail. Unlike the South African Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu, which backed Zuma then, Dube remains firmly in the former president’s corner.
The pro-Zuma group has questioned the judiciary’s impartiality in dealing with the charges against him, which relate to R1.38‑million he received from businessperson Schabir Shaik while Zuma was still KwaZulu-Natal economic development MEC. Shaik received a 15-year sentence for his role in the relationship and, having since been released on medical parole, is likely to be called to testify against his former friend and comrade when the matter finally goes to trial.
Dube told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday that the support group had started discussions “from this morning” with a variety of organisations around the country. It was also looking at other strategies to back Zuma beyond the marches planned for courthouses, he said. “I cannot give you details because I do not want to pre-empt things but discussions are taking place.”
He said that, after Friday’s march and vigil, the programme to show support for Zuma would continue. “We perceive that, in other appearances at court, there will be demonstrations in courts throughout the country and that we will not just have people assemble here [in Durban]. We will have people in different provinces holding demonstrations in support. That would be about taking this national,” Dube said.
He said the bulk of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive, along with the leaders of the ANC’s eThekwini region, were expected to participate in the vigil and march “in their individual capacities”.
Dube said they were not defying Luthuli House. “This is not defiance. They said people must come here in their own capacity as members of the ANC. I am there in my capacity as a person who is a friend, and a spiritual friend, of uBaba Jacob Zuma.
“Our working together started a long time ago. My being there is on the basis that I am a pastor, an interfaith leader and a personal friend of the family. I don’t see any problem in that, neither are there any contradictions.”
Dube said campaign organisers had asked participants to refrain from wearing ANC T-shirts.
“With us as religious leaders, we will come with our religious attire. The ANC has instructed that people should not wear ANC T-shirts. We have asked them not to wear them. We cannot control what people wear as that is not our core responsibility as organisers but we believe they will stick to the instruction,” Dube said.
The support group’s actions would not cause disunity in the ANC, he said. “These are the times when we must be seen as united and supporting each other. I don’t believe this is a situation where the ANC will be divided. I believe this is an opportunity for the ANC to show humanity and show that it is an ethical organisation that supports its own. I don’t see this as something that is divisive. If it is divisive to other people, it is because they don’t understand the importance of unity to the ANC.”
Zuma’s legal team, led by Kemp J Kemp SC, is likely to inform the court of its intention to bring an application to review the decision by the national director of public prosecutions, Shaun Abrahams, to proceed with the charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering against Zuma.
The review application will mean a delay in the criminal trial, which will merely be placed on the high court roll during Friday’s hearing.
If the application fails, Kemp will probably bring an application for a permanent stay of prosecution, similar to the one filed during Zuma’s earlier aborted corruption trial, which will also have to be heard before the case against him can proceed.