“We would hope that comrade [Jacob] Zuma’s legal application to the constitutional court will be successful. He is an elder and we love him and respect him,” said ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte.
Briefing journalists on the outcomes of the virtual special national executive committee (NEC) meeting to discuss protests in support of Zuma in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, this past weekend, Duarte on three occasions emphasised that the NEC wished Zuma success with his application to the apex court.
But she also said: “The meeting stressed that it must always be clear that the interests of an individual cannot take precedence over or jeopardise the interests of our democracy or of the nation.”
Zuma, whose history with the courts some have likened to that of Mafia boss John Gotti, headed to the high court in Pietermaritzburg on Tuesday in a bid to interdict the police from instituting a court order to arrest him.
Next week, he will return to the constitutional court, asking it to set aside both the contempt order and the prison sentence, as well as its instructions that he hand himself over to the police this past Sunday or face arrest within the next three days.
Duarte stressed the NEC’s “unequivocal commitment to and in defence of the constitution, in particular the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, among the founding principles and values of the Republic”.
The NEC’s resolution comes after Zuma launched a blistering attack on the judiciary claiming that he was being threatened with arrest without a fair trial and that the country was sliding into apartheid rule.
Asked if the ANC agreed with Zuma’s opinion, Duarte skirted the question, saying the party had varying opinions. She blamed the presence of the media in NEC meetings that prevented NEC members from freely expressing their opinion.
In the NEC statement which Duarte read, the party reaffirmed that all democratic institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement agencies, should always be defended from political attacks so that they could carry out their work without fear, favour or prejudice.
“Very strong views were expressed. Very harsh tones were used by some comrades but in the end what matters most was the principles upon which our organisation lays its foundation and that everybody in that meeting unequivocally supported that rule of law, unequivocally supported the independence of the judiciary, unequivocally supported the constitution of the Republic,” she said.
Zuma’s refusal to follow court orders led to the constitutional court’s 15-month jail sentence of the former president, which was meant to be effected on Sunday.
Zuma’s supporters and family members have, in the past week, threatened civil war and anarchy, vowing that the police would only take him into custody “over our dead bodies”.
This was clearly illustrated when gun-wielding supporters fired shots in the air at Nkandla this past weekend. Many carried traditional Zulu spears in defence of the former president.
Duarte said attempts by Zuma’s supporters to organise a national shutdown and mass protests had failed.
The NEC last week postponed a meeting to discuss sending some of its members to Nkandla to diffuse the situation.
“When words like ‘human shields’ are used, which are words used by terrorists, we sat up and took note and we wanted to make sure we talk to ANC members so that we prevent any bloodshed. We had to take some responsibility, which is why the NEC meeting had to be postponed,’ Duarte said.
The Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), which spearheaded protests in Nkandla against Zuma’s imprisonment, has been chastised for its role.
The NEC ratified its national working committee decision for the immediate disbandment of MKMVA and the MK National Council, and confirmed the establishment of the MK Veterans Unity Conference Preparatory Committee and the 60th Anniversary Committee.
Duarte said the actions of sections of MKMVA, in the year which will mark the 60th anniversary of the armed wing of the ANC during the struggle against apartheid, was a shameful blight on its proud history.
“The threat of violence aimed at undermining our democracy and its core institutions
is counter-revolutionary, akin to similar displays and acts by extreme right-wing elements,” she said.
Zuma was apparently asked to leave the special NEC meeting after he logged in as an ex officio member.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial leaders had called for the NEC to find a political solution to Zuma’s impending incarceration in their report to the NEC, but sources with knowledge of the meeting said their voices were drowned out.
“The NEC is not going to enter into custodial or non-custodial debate. We have no role to play except to continue to support comrade Zuma in any role we can,” Duarte said on Tuesday.
In his address as party leader and president of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa told NEC members that it was important for the ANC to send NEC members to KwaZulu-Natal this past weekend to avoid a potential crisis.
He said he had received a report from ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe and the ANC KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Mdumiseni Ntuli, about a “testing” situation as emotions ran high in Nkandla. Mantashe recommended that the provincial leadership visit Zuma’s home to quell the situation.
Sources in the NEC said some members disagreed with the party’s decision to cancel last weekend’s meeting to attend to the Nkandla protests, arguing that it gave life to the perception that supporters of Zuma were a threat to democracy.
“Comrades felt that this matter should have been handled by the state. We felt that our presence in Nkandla could be misconstrued as political interference,” the party member said.
Duarte said the party would also call on the party’s suspended secretary general, Ace Magashule, to explain why he called for a rebellion by ANC branches and structures while visiting Zuma at Nkandla.
Magashule said: “People want to end the ANC. They want to disband and remove comrades. When they disband you as a branch, you must still be a branch. When they expel you, you must still be a member of the ANC. When they disband a region, you must still be a region because you were elected.”
Duarte said the secretary general’s office and provincial secretaries would investigate and initiate disciplinary action against the organisers responsible for the incitement of violence and defiance of Covid-19 regulations.