An “unforgivable” arms deal court case against the “darling of the people” were some of the sentiments expressed this week by ANC KwaZulu-Natal secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli to describe former president Jacob Zuma.
The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal says it has plans to leverage Zuma’s popularity when it kick-starts its election campaign for this year’s local general elections.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Mail & Guardian, Ntuli emphasised the need for the province to utilise Zuma in its election campaign despite him facing charges of corruption and fraud related to the 1999 arms deal.
Zuma faces multiple charges and has even defied the instructions of the Constitutional Court to appear before the state capture commission of inquiry. This in spite of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and the national executive committee’s (NEC) order that all party leaders cooperate with the commission, as the party is adamant it intends to clean up its reputation that it benches leaders who have been charged with corruption.
Despite this, Ntuli says an overwhelming number of the KwaZulu-Natal community would not have issues with Zuma campaigning for the party.
“A discussion with him will not be about asking him to help. It will be about which programmes he needs to implement. When I go to him, I will say: ‘President, you have a campaign in this area and we think a leader of your calibre will be suitable to represent the ANC so please make yourself available on this date alternatively if not available give us this date.’ That is how we do it.”
Dismissing the gravity of the state’s case against Zuma, Ntuli said it held no weight in the public and only middle-class South Africa held an opinion against the former statesman.
“It’s a very old case, and South Africans are very forgiving generally. They also are not taking very kindly to the fact he is an almost 80-year-old man who has been in and out of court for nearly two decades. The reality is that it’s part of the reason that Zuma remains a darling of many people in this country, not just in KZN,” he said.
“People are going through difficulties in their own lives, things are not improving, but on the other hand, they are also seeing one of their own going through a process that none of us would want to be subjected to. Naturally, people will say that what is happening to you is unforgivable.”
Ntuli argued that the case against Zuma is not an issue in party campaigning.
“There may be some sectors of society in the middle class that will see it as a challenge because it looks at things beyond the obvious like you and me … Our main concern then becomes the soft issues of ethical leadership,” he said.
National ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe agreed, telling the M&G that the ANC must tread carefully not to “arrogate Zuma to some individuals who might want to use him to further their nefarious agenda against the ANC”.
“None of us including the media should ever attempt to liquidate the role of the individual leaders of the ANC. He remains a former president of the ANC. He is still very much alive and possesses the necessary energy to represent the organisation’s work on the ground when required, and he makes himself available. We welcome that,” Mabe said.
Sources inside the NEC, which met earlier this month, told the M&G that the party discussed Zuma’s attitude towards the judiciary after the integrity commission ordered that he appear before it.
Insiders also told the M&G that while Zuma’s defiance was frustrating Ramaphosa, the president could not afford to take action against Zuma and his ally Ace Magashule concurrently as this would tilt the scales against him.
However, the party has drawn a line in the sand regarding Magashule. Two weeks ago, the party’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, issued him a suspension letter warning him against commenting on the step-aside process or his temporary removal from office.
This resulted from Magashule’s refusal to step aside after he had consulted with party elders, including Zuma. Sources had previously told the M&G that during this consultation, Zuma had promised to mobilise support for the suspended secretary general.
Magashule has since filed an urgent court application challenging the constitutionality of the step-aside resolution. He accused Ramaphosa of abusing the stand-aside guidelines to oust him to ease his reelection as president of the party at its next conference in 2022.
During Zuma’s court appearance last week, Magashule defied an order by the NEC to not speak on ANC matters. He instead promised to bring the might of his home province in the Free State on 26 May to support Zuma.
This week the ANC indicated that it would oppose Magashule’s court challenge, enlisting legal giant advocate Wim Trengove to represent the party.
The KZN provincial leaders also requested that the officials show support for Zuma during his arms deal court case to mitigate against the perceived influence of the radical economic transformation faction.