With the clock ticking for former president Jacob Zuma to hand himself over to the authorities to be jailed, or face being embarrassingly frogmarched to prison, the SAPS has dismissed as meaningless threats by supporters of the former head of state to shield him from arrest – even at the expense of their lives.
In a response to several threats to lay down their lives to thwart the arrest, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, the national police spokesperson, said that when the time came they would do what they had to do, as empowered by the law.
Naidoo’s comment comes as the tensions between Zuma supporters and the authorities took an unexpected twist yesterday – and worsened.
"Look, I am not going to comment on this. Zuma has until Sunday to hand himself in, so let the people say whatever they want to say.
’’After Sunday, if he does not hand himself in there is five days for the minister of police and the commissioner of police to decide to hand him to a correctional facility. From then we will start commenting, not now," he said.
Upping the ante on Thursday and with more tension expected in the coming days, Zuma’s supporters said they believed that he was the victim of a judicial system that was badly entangled in politics.
One Zuma supporter, asking not to be named, said: “This is minor, our true strength will be seen from Sunday when we start gathering here (Nkandla) in numbers.”
All this was triggered by a long-brewing spat between Zuma, the Zondo Commission and the Constitutional Court. On Tuesday, the apex court sentenced Zuma to 15 months' prison for defying its order to testify before the Zondo Commission and answer all questions posed to him.
Tuesday's ruling sparked a war of words between Zuma’s supporters and the authorities. Signs of tension started on Wednesday when the MK vets prevented a police van from accessing the Zumas’ home. SAPS authorities downplayed that incident as "misinformation" by the media contingent that took the video and circulated it.
In a dramatic escalation, yesterday Inkosi Bhekumuzi Zuma of the local Zuma clan joined a convoy of Zuma supporters who went to show their presence and pledge to thwart any arrest.
The traditional leader, who refused to speak to Independent Media, together with another Zulu warrior whose name could not be immediately established, had guns hanging from their hips.
The regiments sang traditional Zulu war songs as they marched towards Zuma’s homestead. They sang Wathintu Zuma, udakwe yini - which loosely translates to “Why touch Zuma (Jacob), what has intoxicated you?”
Upon arriving at the home, they were allowed inside and continued to sing at the entrance of the home, and then moved to the open fields at its gates.
Speaker after speaker, from the MKMVA to leaders of the convoy and the church, vowed that Zuma would not be arrested.
Repeating the words of Zuma’s son Edward, they said the authorities would have to get past them before they could arrest the former president. One of those who vowed that Zuma would never be arrested was Lindani Sicwala, the leader of the convoy, who is also a known confidant of former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede.
Sicwala advised police officers to fly past them in a helicopter.
“We will be here (in Nkandla) until that day (of arrest) comes. If they want to get inside they will have to use a helicopter to fly past us because they won’t use this entrance while we are here,” Sicwala said.
Bishop Sandile Ndlela, a senior member of KZN Interfaith, also made a similar statement, adding that Zuma was being politically persecuted and, as such, they would fight off any attempts to jail him.
Dumisani Cele, who called himself a commander of the MKMVA, said Zuma should be defended and it would bring shame to the people of KwaZulu-Natal to have the former head of state arrested without them putting up a fight.
“As the MK we are saying this is enough. Enough is enough. What is happening to Nxamalala (Zuma) shows that the law in South Africa is not being correctly applied, it does not protect his rights.
’’So we are now saying if he is arrested, we will die here. That is what we are saying. As KwaZulu-Natal MK we are saying that if Nxamalala is arrested, we will die here … if something is happening to him, let us die,” Cele said.
Zuma’s whereabouts remain unknown. Bishop Vusi Dube, one of the prominent organisers of his supporters, said their understanding was that he was still consulting his legal team on the way forward.