Why we back Zuma

2009-04-03 00:00

I read with surprise and disappointment the article by Colin Gardner in The Witness of March 22, expressing doubt about the African National Congress on a matter that has received extensive discussions in party structures without his ever raising this issue as an ANC supporter.

Contrary to damning media reports of the Polokwane conference, the decision to elect Jacob Zuma as president of the ANC was a sober one. The debate had gone on informally for over 10 years. It was started at the time when the ANC was discussing the post-Nelson Mandela leadership in 1997. Careful thinking resulted in the decision that Thabo Mbeki would succeed Madiba and after two terms, Zuma would take over.

The decision was based on the fact that the two were among the most experienced and respected strategists, who had served together since the days of Oliver Tambo. Mbeki was primarily preferred as he would be able to focus on issues of transformation of the state machinery because of his technical skills which we believed the country needed at the time.

Zuma was elected to deputise and strengthen Mbeki’s leadership collective because of his excellent human relations, listening skills and capacity to unify. It was felt that, inevitably, Zuma’s leadership would be needed to refocus attention on the vision of the ANC to build a compassionate and caring society. His passion for education, rural development, aand fighting poverty and crime is legendary. It was felt that Zuma would further enhance the consultative character of our organisation once the transformation agenda was in place after Mbeki.

For many people, Zuma represents the triumph of the human spirit of perseverance by virtue of the fact that he rose from the depth of grinding rural poverty to attain the level of national and international prominence as a confident yet self-taught person. To some, this is a source of inspiration, especially for the respect he commands on the continent and abroad. The recent visits to international investor forums have shown the high level of faith in him as a leader. Zuma may turn out to be one of the finest presidents this country has had. Zuma’s rise to the top echelons of power has not erased his touch with the ordinary people. No wonder so many feel well represented by him and do not share Gardner’s scepticism.

Those who know him well will attest that Zuma’s reputation is that of an honest and caring person, and a committed leader who will go out of his way to help those less fortunate than himself. Despite the myriad news reports condemning Zuma, many people have refused to buy into this image of corruption, as it does not accord with their experience of the man.

People who have only known about Zuma through the media do not understand how a man described in such horrible terms can be considered for such a high post. Yet those who know him do not accept that such a description refers to the leader they know so well.

Like many leaders, Zuma is fallible. The saying goes humanum est errare (to err is human). Any perceived weaknesses are outweighed by his mature leadership style and the stability and spirit of friendship the country will enjoy under his leadership. His strength is his humility and welcoming style that inspires willingness to contribute to the positive achievement for the good of our country. The role of the leadership collective is to support the individual leader and enhance his or her best qualities.

South Africa was eternally blessed to have a leader like our beloved Madiba. We must also face up to the reality that there will only be one Madiba. Therefore, our leaders will increasingly become more and more ordinary. Our task is to choose leaders and support them in their quest to fulfil the task that we elected them for.

Prior to the Polokwane conference, branches and delegates debated about and evaluated many of the talented leaders in the ANC in the context of who would best lead our organisation and our country during this time. They decided Zuma is that person. When our members decided that Zuma would be the ANC’s presidential candidate, everything about him (both negative and positive) was known. Electing Zuma was a conscious decision. As an expression of a democratic process, it has to be respected. The mark of true democrats is to accept the due processes of democracy and not change goal posts when the outcome is disliked.

Zuma has been investigated for nine years, during which he has proclaimed his innocence. He has never missed a day in court since he was charged in 2005. It was the NPA’s inability to proceed with prosecution that led to the case being thrown out of court by Judge Herbert Msimang.

When Zuma’s offices were raided by the Scorpions, his lawyers successfully challenged the Scorpions in court, which declared the searches to be unlawful. It was the NPA that appealed. It is strange that each time the NPA and the Scorpions lose a case against Zuma it is acceptable to take matters to a higher court. Yet if Zuma does the same, he is accused of delaying court appearances. Zuma has no fear of the processes of justice. He has always used it to assert his rights to a fair trial.

Zuma’s objection to the charges a week after his election as president of the ANC resulted in Judge Chris Nicholson finding in Zuma’s favour. It was the NPA that appealed. It is possible that this case may never have proceeded if the NPA had opened the avenue for representations. It may have become apparent much earlier that no crime had been committed. That Schabir Shaik was found guilty is no confirmation that Zuma is similarly guilty simply because his name was mentioned in court. He could not be found guilty without being party to court proceedings. Repetition of allegations against Zuma in the media has created a false sense of guilt in the minds of the public.

Political parties opposed to the NPA’s considering Zuma’s submissions are themselves bordering on interfering in the institutions of justice. Why would the NPA be right to take Zuma to court and be wrong to exercise a provision specified in the Constitution?

Extensive use of the media by the state institutions has resulted in prejudice against Zuma by people who profess to respect the rule of law.

It was strange that during this ordeal, the main issue that was debated was Zuma’s suitability for the presidency, confirming the information in ANC circles that the investigations were used to frustrate his election as president. This is the reason why the contestations in the last ANC conference were so fierce. The issues in this case were more political than legal.

When Zuma was accused of corruption in the arms procurement process, it was not equally stated that he was not party to the arms deal negotiation, nor was the Minister of Defence ever asked to account or resign for presiding over the process. Very little is said about the chairperson of the entire process even though it was known that it was the president who authored the letter that was extensively highlighted in the Shaik trial.

The ANC has not shifted from its values of clean governance, anti-corruption, respect for the independence of the judiciary and presumption of innocence.

We need closure of this matter that has traumatised and divided our society. We may never agree on what the real truth is, so we must accept the responsible organs and follow due processes of law.

When this ordeal is over many will realise that we allowed ourselves to be swayed by repeated publication of untested allegations; hence we tacitly endorsed the persecution of an individual simply because the trial by public media was better presented than the case of his innocence.

• Dr Zweli Mkhize is the provincial chairperson of the African National Congress.

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