/ 1 June 2018

JZ’s apostles to launch new party

Praise singers: Religious leaders are among those behind moves to register a pro-Zuma party to contest the polls.
Praise singers: Religious leaders are among those behind moves to register a pro-Zuma party to contest the polls.

A lobby group backing Jacob Zuma is pushing ahead with a plan to form a new political party aiming to weaken the ANC enough at the polls for the former president to potentially return to power.

Their move ends several months of speculation that some of Zuma’s backers were planning to undermine President Cyril Ramaphosa by “punishing” the ANC in next year’s poll and forcing the governing party into holding an early national general council (NGC) to remove him from the presidency.

The Mail & Guardian has learned that Ramaphosa raised concerns about the behaviour of the pro-Ramaphosa and pro-Zuma camps in the ANC at the party’s national executive committee (NEC) meeting last weekend. Ramaphosa told the meeting that the party needed to get out of “pre-Nasrec mode”.

The pro-Zuma lobby, called Mazibuyele Emasisweni, is made up of religious and business bodies, traditional leaders and taxi operators. It plans to launch the party, apparently to be called the African Transformation Congress (ATC), in the next two weeks. The religious grouping alone claims a combined membership of 6.8‑million people.

This group, which has organised events to support Zuma since he was removed from office, claims to have already consulted the former head of state, and to have his approval.

READ MORE: Church leaders to hold welcoming home prayers for Zuma

“Zuma will not be the face of the party. It is impossible. He will forfeit everything then,” explained a leader from the religious grouping.

The former president will instead be asked to anoint the leader of the new party. “We’ve had meetings with Zuma and I understand him to mean that Ramaphosa must not get support because he is in league with the whites,” said a senior organiser behind the proposed new political party.

The lobby group’s leadership believes the ANC under Ramaphosa will not implement the more radical resolutions, such as land expropriation without compensation, taken at the party’s national congress in December.

The ANC NEC resolved after the recent land summit to expropriate land within the limits of the Constitution — which some in the ANC see as backtracking from the radical position.

Mazibuyele Emasisweni leaders made their intentions public on Thursday on the sidelines of a prayer meeting at Nkandla, called by Zuma’s family and the KwaZulu-Natal leaders of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa to thank Zuma for his contribution while president.

The Sunday Times reported that Bishop Caesar Nongqunga, leader of the Twelve Apostles Church in Christ and a close friend of Zuma’s, planned to register the ATC to contest the next election in alliance with groups such as Black First Land First as part of a plan to force a Ramaphosa recall. The rumours were denied by Zuma supporters, including KwaZulu-Natal ANC co-ordinator Sihle Zikalala.

Reggie Ngcobo, an organiser of Mazibuyele Emasisweni, said in a television interview at Nkandla that they had made a “clarion call” that “the things that Baba Zuma has done that have advanced and improved the life of a black child … have to be continued”.

Ngcobo said the group was “not yet a political party” but was “inviting views from people on the ground”. He said they had met Zuma, other “veterans”, amakhosi, members of the taxi industry and the former president’s “associates”. “He has said he cannot dispute what the people say. He was encouraged that people have a voice,” he said.

Asked whether they would choose Zuma to lead their party, Ngcobo said: “We will cross that bridge when we get there. We are pro former president Zuma. He will be part of those names in that basket.”

At Thursday’s Nkandla prayer service inside a marquee partially decorated in ANC colours, Zuma received a hero’s welcome from the crowd.

Yet speakers at the event downplayed talk of a party being launched, saying that it was about welcoming Zuma home and thanking him for his time as president.

READ MORE: Limited seating for State v Zuma

Zuma thanked the churches and his family and gave a lengthy history of his role in the struggle. He said he had left his mother twice to go and fight for liberation with the ANC. People who thought he would leave the party one day to start another party “have no idea who I am”.

Turning to his prosecution, Zuma said he had been investigated since 2005 and that no evidence of corruption had been found against him.

Zuma, who resigned after being recalled by the ANC in February, will appear in the Durban high court next week on charges of corruption relating to payments he received from convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik while he was KwaZulu-Natal economic development MEC.

ANC leaders have warned members not to wear party regalia in support of Zuma, something that has angered the former president and many of his supporters.

“I am not corrupt. I was raised in a way that taught me that it is wrong to steal,” Zuma told the well-wishers.

He said his only “crime” was to fight for the freedom of black people.

In his address Zuma also alluded to his closeness with Russia, saying he had tried to maintain close ties with the country because Eastern European nations had helped the ANC in its armed struggle.

“And if my organisation appears to be changing its stance [on Russia], I will fight from the inside to say we are losing our way,” Zuma said.

Two weeks ago, the M&G reported that Zuma had visited Russian President Vladimir Putin, which left the South African government concerned. In response, the government sent Deputy President David Mabuza to meet Putin to explain why South Africa could not afford the nuclear deal and to apologise for not honouring a state visit invitation Zuma had extended to Putin during his tenure.

This week, Zuma’s son Edward said reports that the former president was involved in “the so-called political party” were false.

The ANC also said it believed Zuma to still be a loyal member of the party. It said his willingness to attend to organisational matters as a former leader and ex-officio member of the NEC proved his commitment.

“He has led and steered the ship even in difficult times. And he continues to make himself available to attend to organisational activities. This past weekend he was at the meeting of the [NEC]; he also attended the land summit,” ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe said.

“He has always carried himself as a committed cadre who is loyal to the African National Congress.”

A source in one of the church groups told the M&G the proposed new party may act in alliance with the ANC and that Zuma had been identified as a potential leader.

“He told us that this movement that we are coming up with as religious leaders is the only answer for the nation,” the source said.