Infuriated by the judiciary’s issuing of an arrest warrant for the former president, pro-Zuma forces lay the groundwork for a fightback campaign
In a situation reminiscent of the 2005 revolt against the ANC leadership, supporters of former president Jacob Zuma are mobilising to stage a coordinated defence of him.
Whereas in 2005 it was prompted by his dismissal from then president Thabo Mbeki’s Cabinet, and his subsequent resignation from ANC positions, this time the rebellion has been sparked by the warrant of arrest issued by the Pietermaritzburg High Court in KwaZulu-Natal after Zuma failed to show up for his fraud and corruption trial on Tuesday.
The ANC’s national general council (NGC) reinstated Zuma to all his ANC positions in June 2005, paving the way for his triumph at the party’s national elective conference, held in Polokwane, Limpopo, in 2007.
Now loyalists comprising sections of the ANC women and youth leagues, the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) and some provincial structures are planning a fightback against what they regard as the “persecution” of Zuma.
The warrant of arrest was issued after Zuma’s legal team produced a sick note, issued by a doctor at One Military Hospital in Pretoria, which Judge Dhaya Pillay deemed inadmissible.
The warrant has been stayed until May 6, the date on which the case is set to resume.
DECLARATION OF WAR
In Gauteng, a group calling themselves the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) forces met in Kliptown, Soweto, to draft a plan of action to support the former president.
Various ANC-aligned organisations were represented at the 70-strong gathering, which was characterised by anger towards both the judiciary and Zuma’s perceived persecutors.
They deemed the warrant to be a sign of disrespect towards Zuma, its issuing meant to humiliate him.
City Press has been privy to detailed minutes and communications about the proceedings, during which participants declared that they were “ready for war.”
“If they say there is a warrant of arrest, it means that there is a declaration of war. That means we are going to be fighting because president Jacob Zuma cannot end up in jail cells,” a member of the RET forces said..
Masechaba Motloung, a member of the MKMVA’s national executive committee, said: “We cannot allow for Msholozi [referring to Zuma], who is our president, to be served with a warrant and then have the ANC leadership just watching. Msholozi has fought for this country. We are not going to allow this, especially us members of MK.”
Motloung added that ANC members needed to “kill the perception that the president is not being supported”.
There was consensus that Zuma’s supporters were “tired of lurking in the shadows” and that the era of “hiding, speaking in codes and relying on WhatsApp groups” was over, even if it meant being victimised by Zuma’s detractors.
Attendees argued that this was not just a defence of Zuma but of the ANC as well.
Notably, at no point did they blame President Cyril Ramaphosa and his supporters for the warrant of arrest.
There were four key issues which the collective agreed on for its fightback campaign:
The group decided that the pro-Zuma mobilisation should be extended outside the ranks of the ANC.
It was agreed that a follow-up strategy session would be held on Sunday where a steering committee would be elected to drive the process.
The pro-Zuma effort would then be unveiled before the former president’s next court appearance.
A march or motorcade in support of Zuma would be organised ahead of the court date to show that Zuma backers did not only come from KwaZulu-Natal.
ANC Youth League members said they were already organising a march in support of Zuma.
A fundraising campaign would also be initiated to encourage businesses to back the cause.
TAKING OVER ANC BRANCHES
In the long term, the collective is plotting to reclaim ANC branches. This will give it legitimacy as the branch leadership and enable it to issue official statements in support of Zuma.
The collective believes that if it succeeds, it will be able to win more people over to its cause and engage the NGC at its next meeting in June, where ANC factions are expected to go head-to-head on various contentious issues.
‘WE WILL DIE FOR ZUMA’
Like other prominent ANC figures, some of the Joburg-based members of the RET forces said they would do anything to ensure that their “president” did not end up behind bars.
One member took it a step further, saying she was willing to die for Zuma.
“Some of us have nothing to lose, and if it means we have to die, that is fine. It cannot be correct that Msholozi fought for the country but is treated like an orphan, like a criminal,” the ANC member said.
‘WE WILL SUPPORT OUR PRESIDENTS’
ANC Free State spokesperson Thabo Meeko told City Press that the warrant would further divide the country.
“We will be guided by the national leadership of the ANC on what type of programme should be embarked upon. There needs to be some kind of a programme. The province will discuss the issue,” he explained.
Sizophila Mkhize, spokesperson for the ANC Youth Task Team, told City Press that it was too early to speak about the measures they would be taking.
“I cannot really say what measures we are going to take because the warrant is stayed until May. What we can say is that, as the ANC Youth League, we are going to support all our presidents who are still alive.
“We are going to support president Thabo Mbeki, we are going to support president Zuma and we are going to support president Ramaphosa whenever they are faced with unfairness from the judiciary,” she said.
SO, HOW SICK IS ZUMA REALLY?
At least three sources who have recently had direct contact with the former president told City Press’ sister publication, Rapport, that he was so ill, he had already undergone two medical procedures – both of which took place in South African hospitals.
Apparently, one of the procedures was an operation.
He has also travelled to Cuba for treatment.
According to one source, Zuma recently told confidantes that he believed he was being poisoned again.
At the court hearing on Tuesday, Zuma’s lawyer, Daniel Mantsha, told Pillay that his client had undergone two operations – the first, on January 7 and the second, on January 9.
Mantsha handed over a medical certificate, signed by Dr Zakes Motene from the VIP medical unit of the SA National Defence Force.
Motene, who was also in charge of former president Nelson Mandela’s medical treatment in the months before his death, is understood to have accompanied Zuma to Cuba for further medical treatment.
The certificate purported to book Zuma off until April 30 and was issued on February 6.
But it also appeared that the date had been changed to February 6, from January 6 – the day before Zuma’s first procedure.
“It has been clear for some time that it has not been going well with his health,” said an ANC MP who is frequently in contact with Zuma.
“He tries his best to hide it, but if you are in the same room as him, it almost seems as if he is talking to himself. It is clear that he is struggling.”
Zuma was meant to travel to Cuba with Motene on January 23, but the trip was postponed to January 27 as a result of the procedure that Zuma underwent in South Africa.
Some sources said that Zuma had travelled to Cuba in November for medical treatment, and had returned early in December to be with his family at his home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, for Christmas.
His last public appearance was on December 26, when he sang hymns with the Umlazi Gospel Choir during a Christmas party at Nkandla.
“I am fit and healthy,” said Zuma at the event.
Another source, who visited Zuma in December for more than an hour, said he was confused and kept forgetting the names of people he knew well.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Vukile Mathabela, said he could not say anything more than what Mantsha had already told the court.
“He is in Cuba for medical observation. I do not expect him to return before the end of April.”