Former President Jacob Zuma arrives in the Pietermaritzburg high court on May 17 2021, facing charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering. Picture: AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY/DOCTOR NGCOBO
Former President Jacob Zuma arrives in the Pietermaritzburg high court on May 17 2021, facing charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering. Picture: AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY/DOCTOR NGCOBO

The first thing that came to mind when I watched Jacob Zuma’s latest appearance at the high court in Pietermaritzburg on Monday was that it seems, in some circles at least, that you don’t need much more than singing and dancing skills if you want to become a leader.

I listened to speaker after speaker — including Carl Niehaus, Tony Yengeni, Ace Magashule and eventually Zuma himself — and tried to understand what it is that they are so upset about. It is quite clear to me that it is because their funding taps are being cut off.

I could not find anything anyone said that made any sense. Yengeni invoked Marxism and the power of the working class, while Magashule spoke about “blacks in general and Africans in particular”, an outdated ANC concept that has been abused for decades.

It is not so much about radical economic transformation or any other policy differences with what is seen as the pro-CR17 (Cyril Ramaphosa) faction within the ANC. It is only about people who do not want to accept that their time feeding from the public purse through a series of corrupt activities has come to an end.

They do not accept that no-one should be allowed to feed from the public purse through corruption. They know their actions are catching up with them, and they know all of them are going to soon face their days in court and some — if not most — will end up spending time in jail.

What they also appear to have in common is a complete disregard for the constitution of the ANC and the constitution of the country, because both appear to be in the way of their corrupt activities. They also have a disregard for the law enforcement and justice authorities, unless they think these authorities will rule in their favour. They dangerously incite people against the courts and against journalists who continue to bravely hold them to account.

Limitations

Magashule proudly talks about defying the ANC, not understanding that he is exposing his limitations as a leader. Not too long ago he was criticising people who went to court to challenge ANC decisions; now he is doing the same.

He is exposing his limitations because he is refusing to accept that he might have done anything wrong. He is intent on hanging onto his position for as long as possible, even if his actions lead to a split in the ANC.

Not too long ago it would have been almost impossible to talk about a split in the ANC, but it is looking more and more likely that this will be the outcome and solution to the conundrum that we are facing at the moment.

When a provincial premier, a provincial ANC secretary, a suspended secretary-general and various ANC national executive committee members stand on a platform next to Zuma to show him support while he is facing corruption charges, knowing full well that the ANC wants to root out those accused of corruption, the organisation has a problem.

Who is the real ANC? The ones standing next to Zuma or the ones who want to suspend Zuma and others like him? The two groups cannot exist in the same organisation.

Hymn of unity

President Cyril Ramaphosa has been criticised by many for not being decisive enough in the way that he has dealt with the people who opposed him at the Nasrec conference at the end of 2017. He even upset some of his own supporters in the process.

But it has never been about dealing with those who supported his opponent, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who was seen by many as a proxy for her former husband. In a democratic organisation like the ANC wants to be seen to be, it is important for people to be able to vote for whoever they want to vote for.

Instead, Ramaphosa has been singing the hymn of ANC unity while biding his time to take action against the corrupt people in the organisation, many of whom were, incidentally, in the opposing grouping.

Ramaphosa had not been dealt a good hand at Nasrec, being forced to choose a deputy surrounded by suspicions and having to deal with a secretariat, of Magashule and Jessie Duarte, who were firmly in the opposing camp.

But Ramaphosa appears not to have forgotten the negotiating skills he used as general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and as leader of the ANC delegation at the Codesa negotiations, where he and his colleagues got the National Party to agree to many things they might not have conceded to otherwise.

Magashule and the others in his camp appear to be going for broke in their attempts to hold onto the power they have in the ANC. From the outside it looks almost as if they want to be expelled. They might just get their wish. The ANC will probably be better off without them.

I can’t recall having seen Ramaphosa sing or dance more than once or twice, so I can’t really comment on his abilities. But maybe those are skills he does not need, because unlike his detractors he appears to have many of the other political skills required to be an ANC leader in the true and proud tradition of the organisation.

• Fisher, a former newspaper editor, is an independent media professional and political commentator.

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