The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has made a request to its national office for a meeting with the party’s top six in order to navigate the “predicament” it faces over former president Jacob Zuma’s refusal to appear before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, and the effect this may have on the unity of the party and province.
The request is part of a clarity-seeking process within the provincial ANC on how best to approach the subject of Zuma defying a Constitutional Court order to appear before the commission, and in so doing, facing possible arrest.
The ANC national leadership’s inability to offer a clear way forward on how to deal with Zuma’s refusal has again highlighted the existing divisions in the province as official KZN party structures grapple with the issue, while the powerful eThekwini region has already come out in full support of the former president.
On Wednesday, a group of ANC members from eThekwini claiming to represent the majority of the branches in the region held a press conference, complete with regalia and song, in support of Zuma.
The press conference reinforced the public view of a widening schism in the party between those supporting President Cyril Ramaphosa and those supporting the ideologies of his predecessor and allies – many of who are facing criminal charges – such as ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule and the embattled former eThekwini mayor and now member of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Zandile Gumede.
It was one of Gumede’s most ardent supporters, Mzo Dube, who organised Wednesday’s press briefing, where support was also pledged for Magashule.
Dube told Daily Maverick that he had been asked to convene the briefing by the eThekwini ANC region’s 110 branches, and that he could “confidently say” 80% of those branches were in support of Zuma. Dube is an ANC member and has led branches in the past.
eThekwini is the largest ANC regional branch in the country. Expected to host elections within the next few months – Covid willing – it has significant national influence and could very likely elect leadership with a Zuma ideology.
Dube said there was no need to run Wednesday’s meeting past the party’s provincial leadership because “eThekwini has a different approach for everything”.
“Remember, the province has completely dissolved eThekwini leadership. They have left us with nothing but branches, and those branches have a responsibility, because they are the cornerstone of the ANC.
“The branches felt a responsibility from their side that if there is a burning issue, they would coordinate, and take a position around something. Everything that we as eThekwini have been advising the province not to do, they have done. If we as branches can agree on a stance, then we can make a decision.”
The support for Zuma was the same as the support for Gumede, he said, in that it came “from conviction within the eThekwini branches”.
The former president has come under severe criticism from swathes of the public, media and political parties for saying last week that he would defy the Constitutional Court order compelling him to appear before the commission, where he was expected to answer allegations that implicate him in the looting of the state during his two terms at the helm of the country.
Zuma claims that the commission – which he was compelled to establish – has strayed from its mandate and has shown bias in its treatment of him and others who display a differing narrative to the one held on State Capture by much of the country.
He has also accused the chairman of the commission – Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo – of being biased for “historical reasons”, in that Zondo fathered a child with one of Zuma’s sisters-in-law 25 years ago.
Zondo has admitted fathering the child, but said Zuma married the wife in question years after the child’s birth. Zuma had asked for Zondo to recuse himself because of this, but the chairman refused, saying a matter that happened more than two decades ago had no bearing on the commission or his ability to do his work.
Wednesday’s press conference took place in a week where the party’s factional battles once again bubbled into public view, beginning last Friday with the “Nkandla tea party” involving EFF leader Julius Malema and his entourage, ANC NEC member Tony Yengeni and Ekurhuleni metropolitan mayor and vocal opponent of Ramaphosa, Mzwandile Masina.
On Tuesday, Jessie Duarte, the ANC’s deputy secretary-general, took a broad swipe at the commission for allowing “surreal” witnesses to tell “their truth” in a column published by Daily Maverick.
Duarte cast aspersions on Zondo, doubting his ability to make value-based judgments on “democratic centralism”, claiming instead that his viewpoint was one of “the narrow parameters of existing laws”.
She further said she was fearful that the Zondo Commission would “turn our democracy into more of a neo-liberal concoction than it already is”.
On Tuesday evening, during an exclusive interview with the SABC, KZN provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli said that if Zuma was arrested as a result of his refusal to appear before the commission “society will be divided”. The ANC posted the interview to its media WhatsApp group on Wednesday.
While the KwaZulu-Natal ANC distanced itself from the eThekwini region’s Wednesday press conference in support of Zuma, it did not condemn it.
ANC KZN spokesman Nhlakanipho Ntombela told Daily Maverick on Wednesday that the governing party’s national office had “failed us on providing leadership” on the Zuma matter.
Ntombela said that he and others in the provincial leadership had only heard about the press briefing via the media, and had not attended. The event was not authorised by provincial leadership structures, he said.
“The ANC in KZN had its own provincial working committee meeting [about the Zuma matter] this week, and we engaged with the former president last week through the provincial secretary, Mdumiseni Ntuli.
“And out of those engagements, as the ANC in the province, we are requesting an audience with the ANC national officials – the top six – to engage them further on how they can assist us in managing the issues relating to the former president.”
Besides the Zondo Commission allegations, Zuma is facing fraud, corruption and racketeering charges in the Pietermaritzburg High Court relating to the multibillion-rand Arms Deal of the 1990s, while Magashule was arrested and bailed in November last year in relation to a R255-million asbestos scam in the Free State when he was the province’s premier.
Zuma is supposed to appear before the Zondo Commission from Monday 15 February, and is expected in the Pietermaritzburg High Court for the Arms Deal case alongside co-accused Thales on February 23.
On Thursday 11 February, the National Executive Committee of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) will visit Zuma at his Nkandla homestead – just hours before Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address (Sona).
According to a statement from the MKMVA, the visit will be to “honour him [Zuma] as our patron-in-chief”. This will kick off a campaign to visit other ANC members from the “older generation” by the vets.
But, according to the same statement, the visit to Nkandla will also be to “pledge support” for Zuma “in the face of attacks that he is being subjected to”.
“There is no doubt in our minds that President Zuma is being deliberately targeted, and treated extremely badly,” read the statement.
Zondo was “evidently prejudiced” against Zuma, it continued.
Both the MKMVA statement and the eThekwini region’s Wednesday press briefing mentioned a “programme” that would be undertaken to show support for Zuma, although neither elaborated.
Ntombela told Daily Maverick that the ANC in KZN had also only heard about the MKMVA meeting “through the media”, and it again reinforced why national leadership was needed.
The “issues” surrounding Zuma should be “managed better” by the party’s mother body, he said.
“We were not aware of the MKMVA meeting. And one concern we have raised is the number of delegations going to Nkandla to pledge support for the former president, as if the ANC has disowned him.
“That is one of the reasons we are saying to the national officials: ‘Lead us in this matter.’ They are failing to lead us as a province. As the province, we are in a predicament, because when all of these individuals come to see [Zuma], it is like we have authorised those things, when we haven’t.”
The meetings had no official ANC authority, he said. “Even the [Nkandla] tea party was arranged over social media.”
He said it was true that Zuma could meet with any individuals he wanted, but that the ANC in the province had to “bear the consequences of the meetings”, which was “a challenge”.
“We need an urgent meeting with the officials so that we can deliberate on the matter and make them understand the predicament they are putting us as KZN leadership in. They can do more than they are currently doing in managing this crisis we are facing.”
If Zuma did not attend the commission and was arrested, “it would be a crisis for us as the province”, said Ntombela. “Because if you like it or not, there are individuals outside of the ANC who still support him. And we have no control over those individuals or what they do.”
Last Friday, Ramaphosa was doorstepped by the media in Soweto and asked about Zuma’s defiance of the Constitutional Court order. He said that Zuma should be given “time and space” to re-evaluate his position.
ANC national spokesperson Pule Mabe told Daily Maverick on Wednesday night that he had no knowledge about a request being made by the KZN ANC leadership for a meeting with the top six.
“All letters to the organisation are directed to the secretary-general’s office. I will make an inquiry there for you, but you may not get your answer tonight, as every one of the comrades in leadership are involved in [preparations] for Sona.” DM
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