/ 25 December 2023

The ANC’s plan to cope with Zuma

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Former president Jacob Zuma. Photo: Fani Mahuntsi/Getty Images

The ANC national leadership will deploy Jacob Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and one of his erstwhile close allies Zweli Mkhize to try to neutralise the former president’s breakaway party in KwaZulu-Natal in the lead-up to the 2024 elections. 

Party insiders close to the talks said the election strategy expected to be adopted by the ANC’s top brass next year would be similar to that which was used to dismantle the Congress of the People (Cope). 

They said a multi-pronged approach is under construction to deal with the Zuma problem and would include President Cyril Ramaphosa’s close allies in the province. 

This approach, which the party used when ANC leaders broke away to form Cope in 2008, will include limited access to the elections strategy by the KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee (PEC) and regional executive committees. 

ANC insiders who spoke to the Mail & Guardian say Zuma’s decision to become the face of the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe party could potentially lead to large fallout in KwaZulu-Natal where he still enjoys support. 

“The first thing we need to do is understand who will be going with him. There are some who are within the organisation, not only in KwaZulu-Natal but nationally, who will follow him but a big part of that will be in the province. 

“The big threat is KwaZulu-Natal, so we need to understand KwaZulu-Natal and the level of anger there but also the level of mobilisation on the basis of the tribal cut,” a high ranking national executive committee (NEC) member said. 

They added part of the problem they face going into the campaign season in the province is the population is divided along tribal lines. 

“The population of KwaZulu-Natal naturally is very tribal and he [Zuma] knows about that so he will make it tough for President Ramaphosa to enjoy support. That is our big problem. 

“We have to figure out how the national leadership will go there, stand up and unite and say, ‘No it’s not true that this is a Zulu thing.’”

Zuma’s announcement, which surprised most in the ANC, has also caused distrust among national and provincial leaders, another NEC insider said, adding while there had not been any indication by provincial and regional leaders that they would join Zuma, there was a fear this would happen in coming months. 

“There are some who will not go immediately. How we dealt with Cope must be the same way in which we dismantle Zuma … 

“Unfortunately, in that kind of an approach, there are strategies we have to take without some people knowing about it because, as it stands, who is going with him and who is not in the PEC and regional executive committees of KwaZulu-Natal we don’t know, meaning you can’t plan with all of those people because you may be planning with JZ,” the insider added.

Another difficulty foreseen by those close to Ramaphosa is their reliance on Dlamini Zuma and Mkhize to campaign against Zuma. They said although both party leaders were still highly regarded in the province, their “disdain” for Ramaphosa meant they could not be trusted. 

“NDZ [Dlamini Zuma] is the mother of Zuma’s kids. How do you sit in a meeting and plot against him with NDZ around? How do you sit in a meeting and plot against JZ in order to favour Ramaphosa when there is Zweli who is very unhappy with Ramaphosa himself? 

“How is that going to happen?” a third NEC member asked.

“Then we have the PEC, which has people like Super Zuma, who are his family. We have to keep quiet and act. We can’t tell them anything.”

Dlamini Zuma and Mkhize ran against Ramaphosa in the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec in Gauteng last year and voted for an impeachment process to be instituted against him in parliament — contrary to the ruling party’s instruction.

A KwaZulu-Natal PEC member said the initial reaction by some was that Zuma should be disciplined but they had decided against it. 

They said during this week’s PEC extended special meeting with its alliance partners it was decided that Senzo Mchunu, Mike Mabuyakhulu and Sipho Gcabashe, among others, must have discussions with stakeholders next month and show a united face. 

“The only thing we can do is insult Zuma,” the provincial leader said. 

The M&G understands that the initial plan was for provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo to go on the offensive, a decision said to have been sanctioned by ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula. One NEC member said Mbalula’s decision had divided the committee, with some believing if the party sanctioned Mtolo to deal with Zuma’s announcement it would mean the problem was contained along tribal lines. 

“Their plan was to go out on a massive insult and the PEC said no we can’t do that,” the NEC member said. 

An insider linked to Zuma said the former president had indicated his frustration with Ramaphosa to NEC members and had said he was preparing to go months before his uMkhonto weSizwe party announcement. 

The insider said Zuma had accused Ramaphosa of trying to destroy him, citing the halted funding for his court cases.

They added Zuma was running out of money and had tried to raise funds elsewhere in Africa. This had allegedly been blocked by Ramaphosa.

“He has allegations that, at some point when he went out of the country to fundraise, those whom he was lobbying were saying to him Ramaphosa had blocked him from fundraising. 

“Those were some of his frustrations — that CR wants to destroy him. He [Ramaphosa] doesn’t want him to be supported by the state and he blocks him from fundraising. That accumulated to huge anger against Ramaphosa,” they said.

“We tried to convince him [Zuma] against it; we said there is no organisation that will take over from the ANC. Yes, you can bring us down but, for anyone to form a stable government, you still need us.” 

They added Zuma had been lobbied to join the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) but decided against it at the eleventh hour, because of Julius Malema’s authoritarian leadership approach. 

“It’s slightly better for us that he has not gone to the EFF but still we have lost because what would have been better would have been for him to be complaining inside the ANC. 

“The problem for him is people who got him elected did not sustain the money beyond themselves. The other problem is this leadership in the province does not know how to navigate Zuma and Ramaphosa,” they added. 

In an official statement, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal said although it was “very disappointed” in Zuma, who had committed an act of “gross ill-discipline”, it would leave how the party dealt with him up to the national leadership.

Provincial chairperson Siboniso Duma told a briefing on Monday Zuma was “the property” of the NEC by virtue of being a former ANC president and the NEC, not the province, would decide the course of action. 

His deputy Nomagugu Simelane-Zuma said any discussions with Zuma over a possible rapprochement with the leadership would be left to the NEC.

The South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), of which Zuma is KwaZulu-Natal chairperson, will not act against him for supporting a rival to the ANC, its alliance partner.

Its KwaZulu-Natal leadership did not participate in the meeting convened by the ANC in Durban on Monday, or in the subsequent media briefing, and had met privately.

A senior Sanco leader told the M&G the organisation would not act against Zuma because it was not stipulated in its constitution that its members had to support, campaign or vote for the ANC.

“It would be unfair to act against JZ on this basis,” the leader said. “There are many Sanco members who support other parties and no action has been taken against anybody. Sanco is a civic movement, not a political party.”

On Wednesday, the Sanco provincial leadership said it would not be bullied by the ANC into firing Zuma.

Zuma is more likely to run into problems at Sanco over his repeated failure to attend meetings of its provincial office bearers and provincial executive committee. A source said a number of office bearers’ meetings had been held at Zuma’s home in Nkandla because he had missed meetings held elsewhere.

“We elected him in absentia and he has been absent since,” they said, adding Zuma had failed to attend to Sanco leaders when they arrived at his home last month for a meeting.

“The office bearers waited from 12 until 6pm and then left. He was busy with his other consultations and was not able to make time for Sanco. They stayed for the day waiting and then went home without getting to see him.”