As former president Jacob Zuma prepares to appear in the high court in Durban on Friday on corruption charges, his supporters inside and outside the ANC want the party to “come to its senses” and stop distancing itself from him.
The move by business lobby groups and church organisations to try to use mass action to force the ANC to bring Zuma back into the fold came after his high-powered legal team took a knock in its bid to have his prosecution halted until the matter of who pays his legal bills is resolved.
Zuma’s supporters were due to hold a night vigil in Durban on Thursday and a march to the high court on Friday. The ANC provincial leadership are also expected to be there.
Zuma has also gone on the offensive ahead of his court date, using a platform presented to him by the Congress of South African Students in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday to tell his detractors to stop “provoking” him and to “keep quiet”.
The South African Communist Party had earlier accused Zuma of being behind the grouping backing him to start a new party to challenge the ANC and of failing to distance himself from them.
“There are people who like to talk about me, who are provoking me. I must warn them that they must keep quiet,” Zuma said. “I have been keeping quiet when I was president of the country in respect to them. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. I’m no longer having that responsibility of being president. I want to warn them that they must keep quiet.”
Nkosenhle Shezi, the secretary of the National Funeral Practitioners Association of South Africa, said the organisation had teamed up with other groups, including the Delangokubona Business Forum and the Black First Land First, to create a body called the Radical Economic Transformation Champions, to co-ordinate support for Zuma.
“We understand that the charges are political, so we are taking on the task of persuading the ANC and the government to throw their weight behind president Jacob Zuma,” Shezi said. “The ANC needs our votes. We are watching them in the manner that they are treating him. This might come back to haunt them in the national elections.”
Zuma, he said, had spent his life in the ANC, and branches had “never renounced their support for him”.
“A few people took a decision to distance the ANC from Zuma. People like [Police Minister] Bheki Cele said people shouldn’t come to court to support. In April people came in numbers. Those people didn’t come from nowhere. They were members of the ANC in full party regalia.”
Shezi said they would again come to court for Friday’s appearance, at which the matter is expected to be adjourned until November 12.
He said a fundraising initiative to pay for Zuma’s legal fees was on hold for now, despite earlier announcements that the funeral association would pay Zuma’s lawyers if the state failed to do so. “At this stage we are focusing on persuading the ANC and every stakeholder to come to their senses.”
Bishop Vusi Dube, an ANC KwaZulu-Natal MPL and head of the eThekwini Community Church International, said: “From the very beginning we did not concur with the idea that the former president should not be supported. Those of us who are attending are not rebelling but are doing so out of courtesy. We were given a mandate to support him in 2005. We are still supporting him … you cannot see a person you know suffering without any assistance.”
On Tuesday, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Shaun Abrahams rejected representations from Zuma’s lawyer, Michael Hulley, that the case be withdrawn until those brought by opposition parties are concluded.
The Democratic Alliance has approached the high court to challenge the agreement that the state should foot Zuma’s legal bill. The Economic Freedom Fighters, in a separate application, want the court to force Hulley and Zuma to pay the state back what it has already paid in Zuma’s legal fees.
The presidency’s legal team has indicated that President Cyril Ramaphosa will not challenge a court decision on Zuma’s fees, which total R15.3-million thus far.
In his address to the ANC national executive committee meeting two weeks ago, Ramaphosa said the government expected Zuma to pay the legal fees if he loses the case.
Zuma faces 16 charges of corruption, fraud and money laundering for 783 payments he received from his former financial adviser, Nkobi Holdings boss Schabir Shaik, while he was economic affairs MEC in KwaZulu-Natal in the 1990s. Zuma was charged after Shaik was convicted in 2005 but the charges were withdrawn by the NPA in 2009.
They were reinstated in 2016 and summons issued shortly after Zuma was told to resign as president by the ANC national executive committee.