Zuma has not yet clearly said whether he will appear and comply with the court order issued by the Constitutional Court while preparing for this moment in important ways, building up pressure within the ANC. For the moment, it appears to be in his interests to continue this process, to use his many allies to force things to some form of breaking point.
This weekend’s ANC national executive committee meeting had originally been intended to finally reach final finality on the issue of whether those accused and charged with corruption must step aside. But it was reported over the weekend that the NEC also discussed Zuma’s stated refusal to comply with the Constitutional Court ruling.
The ANC has said its top six National Officials were going to meet Zuma to prevail upon him to obey the ruling while the commission says it’s prepared its next step should he fail to appear.
It was also reported that the entire NEC had backed the decision of the top six to meet Zuma to discuss this issue.
But there are important questions to ask about this meeting.
ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule has said on this issue, “don’t worry too much about the Constitution”. While Duarte signed an astonishing attack on the commission last week in which she said in Daily Maverick that the testimony at the commission was an “onslaught against the people”, throwing in doubt the stated position that everyone in that ANC delegation really believes Zuma should testify.
From an optics point of view however, it makes sense for the ANC’s top leadership to attempt this move. Then if Zuma does testify they can claim that it was them, and if he doesn’t, they can say they tried everything. Even if they are themselves divided.
Also, they could hardly oppose it, if all of the factions in the NEC are represented in the top six and the top six has agreed to go, then it would make sense that everyone backs it.
It is difficult to know at this stage why Duarte then issued her letter of apology to Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
In the letter, issued on Saturday night, she says she is apologising to him personally for the comments directly on his person. Curiously, she refers to the piece as “an article published in my name”. This raises questions about whether she wrote it in the first place.
(The ‘article’ was in fact an opinion piece, an important distinction. – Ed)
Surely, if it has her name to it she must have. While she would not be the first politician to have an article ghost-written for her, it is certain that the sentiments expressed in the piece are hers and that she would have read it before it was published.
If they were not her sentiments and she had not read the piece before it was published surely she would have said so immediately upon publication. It was hardly a closed WhatsApp group where this document appeared – it was public for the world to see and made immediate waves among the South African public. It would be astonishing for someone to publish something in her name which was not hers. Also, astonishingly incompetent too.
So then why the back-track?
It may just be that the apparent inconsistency of first attacking the Zondo Commission in a published piece and then being a part of a meeting to convince Zuma to appear before that same commission became apparent.
Another explanation is that it came after the NEC meeting resolved that she must apologise.
Or perhaps the response from various parts of society revealed that she had overreached.
Her apology also suggests that the publication of her piece occurred under pressure, and the entire intervention might not have been well thought through.
It could well be that her intent was not actually to change the minds of people on the issue (which would be virtually impossible; ANC MPs had told the Zondo Commission they did not act against corruption, and would do it again, because they were there to represent the ANC). Rather, it is a possibility that the piece was published under pressure from ANC MPs who felt unprotected while their names were being tarnished in public.
However, despite her apology to Zondo personally, she does not retract the entire piece; the toothpaste is now out of the tube, her views on the Commission and on Parliament are public. She cannot remove them from the public domain now.
Meanwhile, Zuma himself is keeping up the pressure.
On Saturday he attended the funeral of former MEC Meshack Radebe (over the weekend Sunday Times editor S’thembiso Msomi published an important account of Radebe’s role in creating peace between the IFP and the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal during the 1990s).
At the funeral he sang the song “Senzeni na? Sono sethu, ubumnyama”; the Sunday Times translated this as “What have we done? Our only sin is being black”.
This is entirely in keeping with Zuma’s strategy over the last six years. While in 2009 he appeared to show a commitment to non-racialism on the journey to the Union Buildings, as the corruption claims grew, so he claimed to be a victim of racism. Even in his final speech as President.
It is still striking that no senior ANC leader has agreed with him in public on this; no senior person has said he is the victim of racial persecution in his corruption trial. And none of them has yet offered any gesture of support.
Those who do support him in public are only the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association, while the person who is his most vocal praise singer is that well-known liar, Carl Niehaus .
It is politically staggering that up until this point no senior person in the ANC has made the trip to Nkandla (apart from Tony Yengeni and Mzwandile Masina) to show their support.
However, it is also not entirely surprising. In February 2018 at least two-thirds of the current ANC NEC voted for him to leave office as President. Since then he has done nothing to win more support to his side.
In the meantime, there is still no certainty on the bigger overall issue. Those who support Zuma in the ANC are also those who don’t support the resolution that those implicated in corruption must step aside. The NEC is supposed to finally resolve these incompatible positions.
So many months after it was first decided (and fully three years after delegates at Nasrec resolved that this must be so) there has been no spate of resignations.
In the end, the most likely outcome is still a set of messy unresolved compromises, in which this current situation in the ANC simply continues, with no victor.
And so the process of the party dissolving as a coherent unified political force might simply continue into the NGC later this year, with Zuma continuing to play a destabilising role in that process. DM