ANC to hold top-level meeting after Zuma apology
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Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma’s fate lies with the ANC as he struggles to hold on to power following the scathing Constitutional Court judgment that found he had violated the constitution.
Addressing the nation on television on Friday night, Zuma apologised for the Nkandla saga but insisted he had not deliberately failed to uphold the constitution and attributed his action to “a different approach and different legal advice”.
“I wish to confirm in line with the findings of both the court and the public protector, that I did not act dishonestly or with any personal knowledge of the irregularities by the Department of Public Works with regards to the Nkandla project.
“The intention was not in pursuit of corrupt ends or to use state resources to unduly benefit me and my family.
“Hence I have agreed to pay for the identified items once a determination is made,” said Zuma.
Zuma’s shifting of the blame and his determination to hold on to office even in the teeth of a damning court finding, leaves the ANC with a dilemma. Senior figures in the party know Zuma’s position became untenable at 11am on Thursday morning, but removing him is easier said than done and there are concerns this would make the ANC vulnerable in an election year.
Read: South Africa reacts to Zuma’s apology
Also read: No need to act against Zuma, says ANC top brass
This may explain party secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s view expressed at a press conference on Friday night that getting rid of Zuma would be tantamount to the ANC “tearing itself apart” at the behest of the opposition.
But Mantashe’s seeming defence of Zuma is not the end of the matter. The ANC will hold an extended national working committee meeting on Monday which will be attended by all national executive committee members.
This will be the first meeting of ANC leaders beyond the top six since Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng delivered the judgment.
Independent Media understands that at a meeting of the politburo of the SACP on Friday many leaders expressed anger at how the matter had been handled, including ignoring advice to pay back the money or take the public protector’s report under judicial review.
On Friday night Zuma said he had not deliberately defied the remedial action required by the public protector and Mantashe said the ANC’s top six officials had unanimously welcomed his apology and were satisfied with it.
The beleaguered president said his executive and government’s legal representatives had incorrectly interpreted how to move forward after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela directed he pay back a portion of taxpayers’ money used to effect the R247 million upgrades to his private residence in Nkandla.
“I would like to emphasise that it was never my intention not to comply with the remedial action taken against me by the public protector or to disrespect her office,” Zuma said.
Mantashe said because the party considered the matter “weighty”, a decision had been made to take it to an extended national working committee. The ANC would go out and explain its mistakes to the people as part of its local government election campaign. If called on to apologise for the Nkandla saga, the ANC would do so even though it was not party to the court process.
“We are not a party of saints but of human beings. We have responsibilities; if we make mistakes we must go and explain,” he said.
But Zuma’s apology appears to be far from putting the issue to bed as pressure mounts from within and outside the organisation. It is the first time Zuma has been forced to publicly apologise for any of the scandals that have plagued his tenure but his apology did not appease many in society who want him gone.
The apology also has the potential to weaken him in the ANC as the party gears up for its elective conference next year.
Mantashe on Friday night dismissed calls from the opposition and other sectors of society for Zuma to resign as president, saying this was a call for the ANC to tear itself apart.
“This is a call by opposition forces on the ANC to tear itself apart. They know what happened the last time so they want the ANC to tear itself apart,” Mantashe said. “The call for impeachment is nothing new nor is it genuine. It is an ongoing election platform ploy resuscitated every single year by the opposition in the form of motion of no confidence.”
Despite a growing chorus demanding the ANC act against Zuma, including calls from party stalwarts, Mantashe said the party would not play to the gallery and do “what the opposition forces want us to do”.
He said the ANC stalwarts must talk to the party directly, not through the media.
On Friday ANC veteran Barbara Hogan joined the growing list of ANC members calling for Zuma’s head. “For the country’s sake we need new leadership not just the president but also in Parliament.
“I feel incredibly sad that we in the ANC who were the driving force behind the constitution have allowed the founding principles of Parliament and the constitution to be abused.
“We need to rethink the role of (the) legislature in terms of oversight and accountability, not just in the National Assembly but in all the provinces.”
Another ANC stalwart and a Zuma presidency critic, Professor Ben Turok, said he was deeply angered.
“We have a situation where values of the president and his understanding of (the) constitution are wrong,” he said. “He (Zuma) doesn’t believe in constitutional democracy.”