Legacies of the Zuma period
It was a mixture of relief and euphoria that greeted the election and maiden State of the Nation Address by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the National Assembly chamber last week, but it wasn’t a feeling shared by all in the ANC.
This weekend, as members of the National Executive Committee were assigned to various regions to inform branch chairpersons and secretaries of the decision by the party’s highest structure between conferences to recall former president Jacob Zuma, there were grumblings in KwaZulu-Natal about the way the process was handled.
Zweli Mkhize, former ANC Treasurer-General, who ran his failed presidential campaign last year on a unity ticket, had the task of addressing branches in eThekwini.
Apparently they didn’t buy his sweet talk. This region resolved that the Top Six should come to eThekwini themselves to explain why they wanted Zuma fired. They also wanted an early national general council to give reassurances that Zuma would play a role in their election campaign. There’s even a suggestion that the region wants him as provincial chairperson.
Branch chairperson in KwaMashu, Sizwe Cele, took to Facebook to voice his unhappiness."The branch leadership has rejected their address as empty because they have already taken their decision on their own without consulting the branches in the first place, hence the branches do not own the decision.”
He also said in another comment that the decision to recall Zuma was "just a factional one”. Some branch members present reported a "very heated, very confrontational” meeting, with the police present.Mkhize did not respond to a phone call and a WhatsApp message.
Member of the provincial task team and former KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson for the ANC, Mdumiseni Ntuli, wrote in a Facebook post that, in the Greater KwaDukuza and Musa Dladla regions, "the discussion on the recall of President Zuma is not an easy subject at al!”
ANC Youth League provincial chairperson Kwazi Mshengu posted: "What disturbs the most is that certain leaders think that President Zuma (sic) resignation marked the end of the matter... the (sic) don’t appreciate the need to manage the attendant impact of the decision particularly within the rank and file and the SA populace in its entirety”.
Ntuli referred a request for comment to task team convener and former provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala, whose phone was off.Zikalala at a press conference last week announced that there would be a welcoming back in the province of Zuma and a celebration of his 60 years of service to the South African people.He did, however, say the province supported Zuma’s recall because it was an NEC decision. KwaZulu-Natal leaders had thrown their weight behind ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma ahead of the party’s Nasrec conference in December.
A branch chairperson in Mpumalanga, which at the last minute supported Ramaphosa at Nasrec, claimed the NEC’s decision was widely welcomed in the province. A Gauteng leader reported a similar reaction by branches there.In the Western Cape, provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs said that in most regions people were happy that the NEC came so quickly to explain their decision, even though it was reported in the media first. "Our members followed the story, but they wanted a discussion on what it means for us, how we get unity,” he said.
"Some also felt there should be an alignment between the ANC national conference and the election of the president,” he said. "In the next [national] general council we are going to have a policy alignment, so that whoever is the new president of the ANC will have to manage the exit of the old one,” he said.
ANC conferences happen every five years, roughly a year and a half before the next general election. Zuma is the second president not to finish his term after being voted out as ANC president, following on Thabo Mbeki a decade before.
People are also following on Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation message, quoting from a Hugh Masekela song, to be sent to do work that would benefit the country, Jacobs said. "People are saying ‘send me’, and branches are saying ‘how are we ready for new people to come into the organisation?’.”Jacobs said Ramaphosa did make a difference at the top, but people should feel welcome in the party at a local level too. He also said the ANC should facilitate "a broad progressive coalition with NGOs and CBOs (community-based organisations) to deal with local campaigns, service delivery, housing and water development, in a local development forum”.
NEC members were given a four-page document with four "key messages” on the decision to recall Zuma, after a seemingly disjointed public communication on the matter the week before.The document explained the process and confirmed that, even though Zuma had agreed to resign in principle, ANC officials disagreed with his wishes to be granted another three to six months in office.
The key messages were:
-The interests of the South African people and the unity of the ANC are paramount;
-The decision to recall Zuma does not make him guilty of any crime;
-The recall of the president is immediate and all necessary parliamentary processes are now expected to ensue;
-Now is the time to unite behind the ANC, build on the foundation that has been laid and continue to build a better life for all.
The document still tiptoes around the reasons for Zuma’s recall. It says that in the NEC it was noted that South Africans remained "highly fractured and divided over the issue of the position” of Zuma, something which speaks to the party’s fears of further election losses should Zuma have remained president."One thing we said [in the NEC meeting last week] was that if the ANC don’t deal with Jacob Zuma, then people will deal with the ANC,” an NEC member said. Zuma would have been a liability in the elections campaign. "That message came out quite strongly, and all of us accepted that message. People already told us in 2016 [during the local government elections] they were not happy with Zuma,” he said.
Under the second key message, that Zuma’s recall didn’t make him guilty of a crime, it was explained in the document that "the seriousness of allegations surrounding him and the Constitutional Court finding that he failed to uphold and defend the Constitution and his oath of office required that the ANC act decisively to restore the integrity of the organisation."The ANC continues to call for the law to take its course and those accused of wrongdoing to be afforded an opportunity to answer to the accusations levelled against them. "President Zuma, like all in South Africa, should be presumed innocent if, and until, proven guilty.”
There were reports in Sunday newspapers that some more bullish members of the Ramaphosa camp wanted the party to take action against Zuma or to boot him out of the ANC for initially defying the party’s call, but others felt this would not help the party’s efforts at establishing unity.
Some also felt that Ramaphosa should drop a bombshell early this week and effect a wholesale shake-up of the Cabinet, with others saying this should happen gradually to prevent any splits or a rebellion in the party. Ramaphosa has already announced that he would reduce the number of portfolios, but according to reports this would only happen in March.
He is likely, however, to grasp the momentum gained in the last few days (which already feel like weeks) following Zuma’s resignation, and build on it.
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