Daily Maverick

Zuma’s supporters, who believe he is a victim of an intolerant judiciary, are not just a fringe group of howlers

- Sibusiso Ngalwa Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors Forum.

On Friday, 17 September the Constituti­onal Court dismissed Jacob Zuma’s applicatio­n for his 15-month sentence to be rescinded. Not only did the former president’s applicatio­n fail to meet the requiremen­ts for a rescission but the court also found his antics to be part of his “creative attempts” to avoid punishment.

“Mr Zuma intentiona­lly declined to participat­e in the contempt proceeding­s, and disdainful­ly dismissed a further opportunit­y when invited to do so. Mr Zuma only now attempts to justify his absence from this Court.

“His plea of poverty is totally irreconcil­able with his extra-curial statements that not only unequivoca­lly evinced his resolve not to participat­e in the proceeding­s, but also displayed his attitude of utter derision towards this Court,” said Justice Sisi Khampepe in delivering the Constituti­onal Court’s majority ruling.

But these facts will not matter to Zuma’s supporters, who have already mounted a spirited propaganda campaign – depicting the former president as a victim of an intolerant judiciary.

Mzwanele Manyi, who speaks on behalf of the Jacob Zuma Foundation, said the court’s ruling will have a negative impact on foreign direct investment. As to how the two issues are related remains a mystery.

As expected, the ANC will publicly assuage society with platitudes about respect for the rule of law and the supremacy of the judiciary. However, it is known that the party’s structures hold the courts in similar contempt to the way Zuma does.

Following the recent judgment against Zuma, one can only expect the pro-Zuma forces to launch an offensive against the judiciary.

At a meeting with the party’s Top Six officials in July, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Executive Committee accused the courts of playing into the political field.

“It is worth noting that the government and the ANC lost almost all court cases in the period between 2014 to 2019… It is also an open secret that cases brought to court against the government and the ANC post the 54th national conference are generally dismissed, and mostly with costs to the litigants. The central question would be what, if any, has been practicall­y done by the government and movement to secure so much consistent victory in court cases, except an impression that judges are players in the political space,” said the report. The 54th congress is the December 2017 conference where Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as president.

This is a serious charge coming from KwaZulu-Natal, given its influence within the ANC.

Since the 2007 Polokwane national conference, KZN has been the ANC’s biggest province, sending the highest number of delegates to the national conference­s. With their strength in numbers, the province has become a powerful bloc with considerab­le influence over ANC decisions.

It is almost impossible for any candidate to win a conference without the support of KZN. I use the word “almost” deliberate­ly, given that Ramaphosa was narrowly elected president without the backing of KZN in 2017 at Nasrec. The province had fully thrown its weight behind Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as its preferred candidate. It is now a record of history that, had it not been for the then Mpumalanga premier and ANC provincial chairman David Mabuza making an 11th-hour flip – directing some of his supporters to Ramaphosa – the ruling party would have had its first female president.

The province may have lost at Nasrec after Mabuza demonstrat­ed to them that dominating in numbers alone and without strategy counts for nothing.

It was a mistake that KZN will not make again going forward. It still wants to be the most powerful province of the ANC as the clock inches closer to the next elective conference in 2022.

It is not enough for ANC leaders to just issue general statements about respect for the rule of law. They must directly challenge their comrades.

But the leadership won’t say a thing. Most will be seeking re-election next year. Ramaphosa does not want to offend KZN, especially with the local government elections a few weeks away.

It would be worrying if this view is generally held within the party. For a while many had characteri­sed the Zuma supporters as a fringe group of howlers. Clearly this is not the case.

We have seen ANC conference­s taking rogue resolution­s that have had an adverse impact on our democracy.

The Scorpions were disbanded within six months after the problemati­c 2007 ANC conference resolution.

We are still paying the price. That’s why we should watch the coming provincial conference­s of the ANC very closely.

With their strength in numbers,

the province has become a powerful block with considerab­le

influence over ANC decisions

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