With elections topmost in the ANC’s collective mind, there’s the political pickle of former president Jacob Zuma facing trial on criminal charges related to the late-1990s arms deal and the State Capture commission of inquiry. After three days’ discussions, the ANC National Executive Committee on Sunday took the path well trodden – compromise. ANC members as individuals may show support for and solidarity with those implicated in State Capture, but not in ANC colours, so there’s no “false impression that the ANC as organisation identifies with, or approves of, the misdemeanours of which any member or leader may be accused”. By MARIANNE MERTEN.
The ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) statement is somewhat oblique in that it does not mention either former president Jacob Zuma by name, or anyone else in ANC leadership positions who may find themselves appearing, say, before the State Capture commission of inquiry.
But the decision that displays of support and sympathy would be individual, not in the name of the governing party, would not have been as smooth a discussion as the official statement wanted to portray. The factions run deep, and continue to do so. But it is an important step, as discussions happened in the presence of Zuma, who exercised his option to attend as is permitted as an ex-officio member.
Shows of public support have been a political tool in the factional political battles of the governing party, heightened in the 18-month or so run up to its December 2017 national conference. The ANC’s uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) has stood guard at Luthuli House against anti-Zuma protesters, while the ANC women’s and youth leagues have marched in their own shows of solidarity. At Zuma’s 2006 rape trial, which saw him acquitted, supporters gathered outside the Gauteng South High Court, sporting “100% Zulu” T-shirts and chanting threats and insults at the woman who brought the complaint, Khwezi, now identified as the late Fezekile Ntsukela.
Today’s ANC is acutely aware of the negative impact such public displays may have generally – it has acknowledged publicly that its reputation has taken a knock over State Capture and corruption, or on the back of how it handled the Nkandla saga – and specifically in Zuma’s home turf of KwaZulu-Natal where he’s set to appear in the Durban High Court on 16 charges on 6 April, including corruption, racketeering and fraud, from April as summonses are being prepared, according to News24.
In the ANC, with its emphasis on the “campaign to restore the integrity and dignity of the state and of the ANC as an organisation”, as the NEC statement put it, there is a push to distance the governing party from such displays.
“The NEC appreciates that, in the context of this campaign, some members and leaders of the movement may find themselves called to account by law-enforcement agencies, the legislatures and the judicial commission of inquiry dealing with the matter of state of capture. The ANC wishes to reiterate its principled approach that persons so implicated should be presumed innocent until and unless proven otherwise. Individual members of the ANC and society have the right to express their sympathy and solidarity with the effected persons in their individual capacity, and not through any structures of the movement including the ANC leagues and the MKMVA,” said the ANC NEC statement.
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule in Sunday’s media briefing on the NEC meeting repeatedly emphasised the bit about the presumption of innocence. At one stage he turned to ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe as example.
“We have Pule Mabe here, who was charged but acquitted… But his image was tarnished,” said Magashule.
“But he is still here.”
Mabe just smiled. The former ANC Youth League treasurer had come to Parliament after the May 2014 elections, charged with fraud related to the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), but was acquitted in December that year. He remained in Parliament until September 2017 – also serving on the finance committee – before recently being appointed ANC national spokesperson.
It’s part of the ANC tradition to rehabilitate, or as Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza told MPs during his maiden Q&A in the House with regards to ANC MP Mduduzi Manana, who in 2017 was sentenced to a year’s jail, or R100,000 fine, for beating up two women:
“We believe that people can be corrected. We don’t have a dustbin where we throw people. We correct them. We move with them.”
On Sunday Magashule said the discussions that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but support and solidarity could be shown only sans ANC paraphernalia, were exhaustive.
“The NEC thoroughly engaged on this matter,” he told reporters.
“They (ANC members/supporters) have the right to support any leader… People must do so as individuals so the ANC is not seen as corrupt…”
The ANC NEC statement added:
“In welcoming the concerted efforts of the executive led by the president, as well as the legislatures, to put the sad chapter of systemic corruption and State Capture behind us, we wish to emphasise that cadres of the movement, wherever they may be deployed, should see it as their responsibility to co-operate with these efforts, and not to seek to obstruct legitimate actions to eliminate these scourges.”
This also is an important statement as it aspires to pull everyone behind one agenda. It comes on the back of positive reaction, or “Ramaphoria”, not only locally from diverse sectors from business to ANC veterans, but also internationally, with Moody’s on Friday maintaining South Africa’s international investment grade just above junk, crucial for the country’s credit rating.
“The new administration faces equally significant opportunities and challenges. Steady progress in meeting the objectives set out in the president’s recent State of the Nation Address will be needed if the recovery in confidence that will be essential for the country’s economic and fiscal prospects is to be sustained.”
The three-day ANC NEC in Cape Town brought together a veritable witches’ brew. But bubbling under all of this are the 2019 elections. For the ANC that poll will be a crucial test to regain ground lost to opposition parties in the 2016 local government elections. South Africa’s economic heartland, Johannesburg, the administrative capital Tshwane and the Eastern Cape’s economic hub Nelson Mandela Bay Metro all went to opposition coalitions, while the ANC needed partners to maintain control in Ekurhuleni and several other municipalities countrywide.
The ANC NEC – elections are a standing item on its agenda, according to Magashule – is getting ready to set up an election war room and will complete its list processes, including branch nominations, by September or October 2018. Magashule chairs the list committee which oversees this process that has brought tensions to the boil ahead of the last two polls. He said assessments of elected public representatives currently serving in legislatures have been done and would now be assessed.
“We did not discuss early elections,” said Magashule, deflecting questions as to whether the ANC may want to galvanise from the current positive sentiments of a Ramaphosa presidency.
“We want to have decisive (elections), overwhelmingly people of South Africa voting ANC…” he said, acknowledging tensions associated with candidate nominations.
“We want to give ourselves enough time.” DM
Photo: A T-shirt bearing the face of former president Jacob Zuma hangs on a washing line as people make their way to the voting stations at the Hospital Hill informal settlement in south of Johannesburg, South Africa, 07 May 2014. EPA/Ihsaan Haffejee