Zuma in frantic fight for key allies
President stuns ANC by seeking separate legal advice on KZN
President Jacob Zuma hired his own lawyers, over and above those retained by his party, in a bid to prevent a political move by the ANC national executive committee that would have been a major blow to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ambition to succeed him as party leader.
Zuma stunned the party’s senior leaders on Friday when he told them that he had sought his own legal opinion on whether the party can appeal against a court decision that effectively nullifies the pro-Dlamini-Zuma KwaZulu-Natal provincial executive committee.
He took the extraordinary measure despite the party, through its secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, having already hired lawyers to give legal advice on the matter.
The president’s move further indicates high levels of distrust and tension among the party’s top leadership ahead of the December national conference in which a new ANC president and executive committee will be elected. The tensions have cascaded to branch level, with members differing on whether Dlamini-Zuma or Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, among others, should become the next party leader.
As Zuma fought to keep the KwaZulu-Natal PEC intact on Friday, party members in the Eastern Cape were locked in a bitter dispute that resulted in their provincial conference being delayed by a day.
The Sunday Times can reveal that Zuma came to Friday’s NEC meeting armed with a document that advised that the KwaZuluNatal PEC appeal against the court ruling which nullified its election — even though Mantashe was in possession of a different legal opinion, sought on behalf of the ANC.
The NEC overruled Zuma, discouraging going back to the court and instead suggesting that Zuma and the rest of the ANC top six meet with KwaZulu-Natal leaders from both sides of the divide to find a political solution.
Zuma’s desperate move is an attempt to save Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign as the KwaZulu-Natal PEC was at the forefront of drumming up support for her.
This comes as Zuma’s backers at the Eastern Cape provincial conference appeared to have been outnumbered by Ramaphosa’s supporters inside the plenary hall. A group aligned to the pro-Zuma faction stormed the venue and disrupted proceedings on Friday night. A pro-Dlamini-Zuma campaigner yesterday vowed to disrupt the provincial conference if it was reconvened last night when it became clear her faction would lose.
In the Free State, the leadership of provincial chairman Ace Magashule, another Dlamini-Zuma backer, is being challenged after a party member threatened to go to court if Magashule’s executive committee was not disbanded by October 8 as its term has lapsed.
Political analyst Lukhona Mnguni said Zuma had a vested interest in the KwaZuluNatal matter because he needed to be succeeded by someone who could either protect him from possible prosecution after his presidency, or ensure that his post-presidency litigation is funded by the state — “someone who is sort of sympathetic to his cause”.
Zuma’s legal opinion was compiled by Advocate Moses Mphaga SC of Makhubela Attorneys. The document lists him as a consultant in his capacity as ANC president.
Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, referred all questions to Luthuli House, saying he did not comment on ANC matters.
Mantashe did not respond to a question on whether Zuma was mandated by the party to get his legal opinion.
“You can get a second legal opinion on any matter. The most important thing is that those legal opinions agreed on everything except that the other did not give us any advisory note to it. But on what should be appealed and what is appealable, both of them agreed,” said Mantashe.
The chaos in the Eastern Cape started soon after the conference was opened by chairman Phumulo Masualle.
When the debate about credentials of delegates present at the venue started, Masualle’s backers insisted that the conference be adjourned until a dispute over credentials of an ANC Youth League delegation was sorted.
Sources said delegates loyal to provincial secretary Oscar Mabuyane, who is challenging Masualle for the chairmanship, refused. They insisted that credentials be sorted out and nominations go ahead.
Masualle is backed by the pro-DlaminiZuma group while Mabuyane has the support of the Ramaphosa camp.
ANC NEC member Zizi Kodwa had to intervene in the tense closed session, allowing for a short adjournment for supper.
When delegates were making their way back to the venue, a pro-Zuma group stormed the meeting, leading to its collapse.
The incident has ignited fears that the same scenes could play themselves out at the ANC national elective conference.
ANC NEC member Lindiwe Zulu, who witnessed Friday’s chaos, said the incident showed that the party needed to strengthen its administration and management processes of conferences.
“This will not be allowed at the national conference,” she said.
By late yesterday afternoon national and provincial leaders were meeting behind closed doors to find a solution to the impasse.
Speculation was rife yesterday that the Masualle group was considering approaching the courts in an attempt to interdict the conference from taking place.
But Masualle himself, sources claimed, had hinted that he might not accept nomination as it was clear that Mabuyane enjoyed majority support.
But his supporters were hellbent on making sure the conference did not go ahead as Mabuyane’s victory would consolidate Ramaphosa’s support in the Eastern Cape.
NEC members who attended Friday’s meeting said this strategy was in line with the pro-Zuma grouping’s plans to divide other provinces while fighting to save the KwaZulu-Natal PEC.
Insiders said Zuma, when delivering his political overview report on Friday, told the NEC that he believed that the ruling ought to be appealed in a bid to “teach those who take the ANC to court a lesson”.
An NEC member who attended the meeting said that while Zuma dedicated his last political overview to promoting unity and speaking out against factionalism, he still pushed that his detractors in KwaZulu-Natal who won the court bid be “dealt with”.
A second NEC member told the Sunday Times that as a “professional litigant” Zuma wanted to rely on the courts to ensure his allies in the provincial leadership remained.
But the meeting decided that the ANC could not have the courts settle its political disputes and that unifying leadership was needed.
A pro-Zuma NEC member said the meeting was cordial and not as heated as the previous one.
“The advice of the senior counsel says the ANC can appeal because the judge misinterpreted the constitution of the ANC.
“It was not discussed, it was just presented. But we have taken a decision as an NEC that we don’t want our issues to be resolved by the courts — even if you’re going to win it does not assist the ANC to be fighting in court,” said the NEC member.
Another NEC member said national leaders were completely vested in either side of the division in the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. “The problems in KwaZulu-Natal are holding the national conference ransom. If it is not sorted out the December conference will be affected,” he said.
KwaZulu-Natal provincial chairman Sihle Zikalala declined to comment.
Mantashe said the top six will meet the PEC today and the rebels tomorrow.
He said the NEC decided to “avoid being legalistic” to prevent another court action.
“The case is appealable but in the process we must get a political solution.”
The specially convened NEC meeting held last week had recommended that an inclusive provincial task team be established to oversee preparations for another elective provincial conference.
Friday’s meeting, which was initially scheduled for three days, ended on its first day. The meeting decided that nominations for the December conference should be officially opened and branch general meetings need to start.
It also decided to defer a decision on an appeal concerning an Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association conference held this year that allegedly included a number of bogus delegates.