I’m back — Zuma

The African National Congress (ANC) deputy president announced last Tuesday that he was ready to resume his duties as the party’s second in command, but the ANC was quick to throw cold water over his come back bid. On Monday, High Court Judge Willem van der Merwe found Zuma not guilty of allegedly raping a 31-year old HIV positive family friend in November last year, following a marathon trial that has had South Africa enthralled for slightly over three months. But despite Zuma walking out of the Johannesburg High Court a free man, analysts argue that his image has been greatly soiled by revelations made in the trial and that he has lost significant clout within the ANC. “This might be a great relief to him, but it is still a long and very difficult road ahead for him should he wish, and I think he does, to resuscitate himself as a serious presidential candidate. “His credibility has taken a serious knock by the revelations that there were within the trial about how a serious leader conducts his love life and that was a very telling part of the judge’s verdict,” Wits University’s Professor Susan Booysen said. Centre for Policy Studies senior researcher Ebrahim Fakir also questioned the ease with which Zuma would emerged from the damage. “The judicial proceedings have been beyond reproach, but whether this means that Zuma’s political future is still intact is still in question. “He still has the corruption trial to go through, and beyond that . . . what kind of negative attention has Zuma attracted to himself? There are open questions about the nature of his judgment,” he said. A day after Judge van der Merwe’s verdict, Zuma said he was eager to resume his duties and would be doing so, after having suspended his activities within the ANC due to the trial. “The case is over and therefore I’m back. I took a decision (to suspend duties temporarily), which was accepted by the ANC for the duration of the case.” But while the implication was that Zuma’s decision was a matter of his own choice, and that the ANC would readily accept him back as a mere “formality”, the party has temporarily halted his quick return. ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe said in a radio interview last week that the ANC was still to make a decision on Zuma’s return and that it would not be as easy as the former deputy president assumed. “The National Executive Committee (NEC) has to consider and pronounce itself on it. “He (Zuma) will have to await the final position of the ANC,” Motlanthe told radio station SAFM. The ANC secretary general said the NEC would be meeting to decide Zuma’s fate in Johannesburg today and would only issue another statement after they had reached a decision. Throughout his trial Zuma has maintained that the rape allegations against him were inspired by the motives of his political enemies, and were part of a major conspiracy to push him out of politics and hurt his chances of taking the ANC and government top post after President Thabo Mbeki. He announced after his trial that he was getting ready to take on his enemies and would do anything within his power to expose their intentions. The former deputy president was axed from his post by president Mbeki in the wake of allegations of corruption against him, and was also the subject of a ‘hoax email’ scandal in which a plot was allegedly made to oust him from power. Last weekend – only a day before the judgment in Zuma’s trial for alleged rape was due to be handed – Mbeki told a gathering of supporters that he had a strong feeling that the next president of South Africa would be a woman, an apparently veiled statement of his support for vice president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. While observers criticized the president’s statements as being ‘ill-timed and inappropriate’, they still believe the comments were largely reflective of the direction South Africa’s politics could take in coming months. Zuma himself appeared to dismiss the president’s sentiments on his desire to have a female successor as a matter of personal opinion, arguing that the party would make a final decision on who a presidential candidate would be. “Any member of the ANC has the right to have his or her views about this matter. But once they are put within the structures of the movement, that is where we discuss and take decisions,” he said. In the wake of the rape trial and his impending trial on charges of corruption, the question of Zuma’s support base has taken centre stage. The general feeling appears to be that the ANC deputy president’s backing within the party has dwindled, but analysts are quick to point out the huge numbers of supporters that have thronged the Johannesburg courthouse throughout the rape trial. “It is a fact that a significant amount of his support has waned but we must ask ourselves ‘in whose eyes’? “It is a question of classes and a certain class within the ANC and within the nation as a whole would now not back Zuma for anything and it is among those people that Zuma has lost a lot of support. “But then the grassroots members of the party, as we have seen are still very much behind him and we must remember that these people are the majority. They have a very big say in the way things turn out because of the numbers,” political analyst Aubrey Mphahlele said. Political analyst Sipho Seepe also concurred: “Effectively, Zuma comes out of this strengthened, given the blistering destruction of the State’s case and the notion of conspiracies. Politically, Zuma does have a lot of support on the ground.” According to Zuma, his support is within the people because, they ‘identify’ with him. “I have been part of the people and fighting with them. People felt that Zuma’s right was undermined, and that’s what made people stand up.” “That’s how people identify with me, as one of them, and as a person who would fight to the last degree with them,” he said.

May 2006
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