Why Zuma didn’t pray

CityPress - - News - HLENGIWE NHLABATHI and PADDY HARPER news@city­press.co.za

ANC lead­ers, ter­ri­fied of protests from dis­grun­tled branches and the spec­tre of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma ad­dress­ing yet another empty sta­dium, pulled the plug on a Na­tional Prayer Day event in Dur­ban on Fri­day.

On Thurs­day, pro­vin­cial ANC lead­ers were fran­ti­cally try­ing to mo­bilise branches to fill the 32 000-seater Kings Park Sta­dium in Dur­ban to save the party – and the pres­i­dent – red faces on the same day that the high court was to rule on the 2009 with­drawal of his cor­rup­tion charges by the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity.

The event was or­gan­ised jointly by the Ja­cob Zuma Foun­da­tion and the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, with the pres­i­dent set to lead re­li­gious groups, civil so­ci­ety and or­di­nary South Africans in prayer. A Dur­ban coun­cil sit­ting and a ses­sion of the KwaZulu-Natal leg­is­la­ture were post­poned to ac­com­mo­date the prayer day.

ANC ac­tivists said they be­lieved the prayer day was partly meant to help Zuma re­cover from the em­bar­rass­ment of the party’s man­i­festo-launch flop in Port El­iz­a­beth, but the event was can­celled early on Fri­day morn­ing via a pres­i­dency state­ment. No rea­sons were given.

By that time, hun­dreds of hawk­ers had al­ready set up stalls and car guards had po­si­tioned them­selves for the ex­pected in­flux.

ANC sources told City Press that, on Thurs­day night, pro­vin­cial chair­per­son Sihle Zikalala called a meet­ing at the Dur­ban City Hall at which branches were urged to make sure they filled up the sta­dium.

“Sihle was at pains to im­press on com­rades the im­por­tance of fill­ing the sta­dium in light of the court rul­ing,’’ said an eThek­wini ac­tivist.

“There were only two is­sues: the prayer day and the rul­ing. He said there was a need to show sup­port to the pres­i­dent. There was no ques­tion of the event not tak­ing place.

“Then some­thing hap­pened and the mes­sage went out to call off prepa­ra­tions. There was no ex­pla­na­tion.”

The ac­tivist said there were branches that were an­gry about the pro­vin­cial and eThek­wini con­fer­ences – and about last week’s eThek­wini list con­fer­ence, in which a fac­tion, led by Zikalala, con­tro­ver­sially mus­cled aside an op­pos­ing group aligned to Pre­mier Senzo Mchunu and Mayor James Nx­u­malo.

“They are scared they [ANC mem­bers] will protest,” he said. A na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee (NEC) mem­ber said the “best thing” had been to can­cel, as branches were not happy. They de­cided it would be em­bar­rass­ing to have Zuma ei­ther ad­dress an empty sta­dium or be booed in his home province.

The NEC mem­ber added that Zuma had had a “hard time” at a re­cent al­liance meet­ing in the province.

Zikalala said the ANC was not in­volved in or­gan­is­ing the prayer day, but it was an­nounced at a cadre’s fo­rum held on Thurs­day.

“The prayer [day] was not or­gan­ised by the ANC. I had no in­volve­ment in the lo­gis­tics, but I can tell you that peo­ple were ready to at­tend. We had a full hall and peo­ple were go­ing there. Then we re­ceived a mes­sage that the event was post­poned. We were not con­sulted on this,” he said.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties con­demned the can­cel­la­tion, as gov­ern­ment busi­ness had been set aside and pub­lic money was spent on the event.

Other ANC in­sid­ers said that al­though pro­vin­cial lead­ers were asked to help fill the sta­dium, dis­af­fec­tion in the branches made this im­pos­si­ble.

“Things are also not well in branches. There have been se­ri­ous ten­sions since the pro­vin­cial con­fer­ence and there was a lot of de­bate about whether to go or not, why they needed to go and what the prayer was about,” said an in­sider.

PHOTO: DEAAN VIVIER / FOTO24

STILL STAND­ING Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma

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