Zuma itch causing ANC discomfort

Our man: Ex-president Jacob Zuma’s fans wore ANC colours outside court despite the party distancing itself from him. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP)

Our man: Ex-president Jacob Zuma’s fans wore ANC colours outside court despite the party distancing itself from him. (Gianluigi Guercia/AFP)

Jacob Zuma must be “convinced” to stop using his court appearances to attack the ANC — and allowing other parties to do so too.

This call came from members of the party’s national executive committee, who raised the matter at its recent special NEC meeting. They wanted the ANC’s top six to intervene urgently before Zuma’s next court appearance on July 27 on charges of corruption and fraud.

Anti-ANC rhetoric and calls for an electoral challenge to the party marked his two previous appearances in the high court in Durban.

Among those who raised concerns about Zuma’s conduct and suggested that the top officials should talk to him directly were NEC member Ronald Lamola and ANC presidency head Zizi Kodwa.

One NEC member said: “There must be a discussion on the matter. What’s happening [on the days of] his court appearances is not helping the ANC at all.
Attacking the ANC is not helping us and it looks like the former president is endorsing them [the attacks].”

This NEC member, who asked not to be identified, said the top six had to find ways to “engage” Zuma to ensure that events organised for his court appearances benefit the ANC and not opposition parties in next year’s poll. “Whatever happens … must enhance the agenda of the ANC, not damage the image of the party,” the NEC member said.

READ MORE: Zuma: They must not provoke me

Another NEC member, who also wanted to remain anonymous and who is sympathetic to President Cyril Ramaphosa, said the ANC president was worried about Zuma’s conduct outside the court and on other public platforms, and believed the former president was trying to undermine Ramaphosa’s authority.

“It is clear that the president’s authority is being questioned. People are mobilising a rebellion. They have a strategy to deal with us [the ANC leadership loyal to Ramaphosa], internally and externally,” he said.

The concerns appear to have informed this week’s comments by ANC elections head Fikile Mbalula in a radio interview that Zuma would be part of the ANC’s campaign for next year’s national elections, and Ramaphosa’s subsequent comments in an interview with a French TV channel, in which he said Zuma would never leave the ANC.

Mbalula’s comments suggest a step backwards by the ANC leadership from its earlier stance, which attempted to place some distance between Zuma and the ANC brand. Zuma, he said, would indeed be part of the 2019 campaign.

Earlier this year, the NEC took a decision not to support Zuma at his court appearances. It said members could support him in their individual capacities but that party colours should not be displayed. This ruling has been ignored by Zuma’s allies, who want the party to back him publicly.

Groups such as the Black First Land First (BLF) movement have been mobilising openly among Zuma’s supporters ahead of and at his court appearances, using the platform to recruit ANC members critical of the current ANC leadership.

Zuma campaigned for the ANC at a recent by-election in his home town of Nkandla (the ward was lost to the Inkatha Freedom Party) and participated in the party’s voter registration drive in February in its Musa Dladla region, under which Nkandla falls.

The move was criticised by the ANC’s alliance partners, who are expected to use Sunday’s alliance political council meeting to question why Zuma has been campaigning for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. Before Zuma’s recall, union federation Cosatu had in effect banned him from addressing its meetings, and the South African Communist Party’s threat to field its own candidates at next year’s poll was averted by the election of Ramaphosa as ANC president in December.

The problems facing the ANC are being complicated by the conflation by Zuma’s supporters in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere of his “persecution” with the moves by Parliament to scrap the Ingonyama Trust.

At Zuma’s court appearances, the business and political lobby groupings backing him have used the platforms provided by the impromptu rallies held outside to link Zuma’s prosecution — and the ANC decision to keep its colours away from the court — with Parliament’s recommendation that the trust be scrapped.

Zuma himself has used the court appearances to push back at the ANC leadership. He has applauded speakers critical of the governing party and has threatened to expose his critics in the ANC and the alliance for corruption.

Last week, the BLF and business lobby groups (including the Radical Economic Transformation Champions) that back Zuma threatened that KwaZulu-Natal would break away from South Africa should trust land be touched. Both the BLF and the radical champions are at the forefront of the shows of support for Zuma at his court appearances and elsewhere.

The BLF had earlier used the hearings on land reform legislation in Ulundi and Port Shepstone to show its support for the trust, King Goodwill Zwelithini, and radical economic transformation — the Zuma camp’s campaign ticket in last year’s ANC elective race.

READ MORE: Zuma’s supporters up the ante

On Tuesday, Carl Niehaus, spokesperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association, and Radical Economic Transformation Champions leaders addressed the imbizo called by the king in defence of the trust, which gives him control over nearly three million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal.

Niehaus aligned his organisation — and the ANC — with the monarch and the trust, saying that the ANC was not compelled to accept recommendations by former president Kgalema Motlanthe’s high-level panel on accelerating transformation. The panel was established by Parliament.

This has increased the pressure on the ANC to backtrack on its dumping of Zuma and its directive that supporters should not attend his court appearances in party regalia.

The stance by the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal — and the provincial government — in support of Zuma and the Ingonyama Trust raises an additional headache for Ramaphosa. Both have been providing Zuma with platforms from which to mobilise support and undermine the national leadership.

On Monday, Zuma has been invited to address a lecture in honour of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa founder Inkosi Mhlabunzima Maphumulo, courtesy of the KwaZulu-Natal department of transport. ANC regions in the province have provided other platforms for Zuma to use, and next week he will address a series of rallies with religious leaders, among them ANC member of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature Bishop Vusi Dube.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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