Zuma: I won’t step down

2009-02-05 00:00

Quitting as the ANC’s presidential candidate in the forthcoming election would be tantamount to pleading guilty, and “I am not guilty,” a buoyant Jacob Zuma told supporters outside the Pietermaritzburg High Court yesterday.

He said he was interviewed by an overseas journalist who had asked him whether he was thinking of stepping down, because “there is this dark cloud around you”.

The ANC president said that all it takes to ruin a person is to cast a shadow over him. “It means that if you hate somebody, all you do is throw a cloud around them and they are doomed.”

Zuma said President Kgalema Motlanthe is similarly becoming a victim of a smear campaign by people pursuing their own interests. He said such people want to make it seem as if Motlanthe is a bad person, whereas he is running the country well.

He told the crowd, who responded to his words with sighs of despair interspersed with cheers and calls of encouragement, that he took his time to respond to the journalist. “I explained to him that South Africa is a constitutional democracy. The Constitution says that you are innocent until proven guilty. I fail to understand why constitutionalists, political analysts and reporters miss this point,” he said.

A crowd of 2 000 to 3 000 supporters, many dressed in ANC regalia, kept up enthusiastic support for their president outside the court. There were fewer buses than the last time — about 40 brought in supporters from surrounding areas. They cheered loudly when ANC Youth League firebrand Julius Malema said that the next time Zuma returns to court, on August 25, he will be there as the president of the country, and the National Prosecuting Authority and the judge will have to address him as “President”.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the case against Zuma has gone beyond prosecution.

“He is being persecuted. We also see this persecution as an attack on the party.”

Mantashe said the attacks are spreading to individuals like Motlanthe, the ANC deputy president, and that recently there have been articles attacking him.

Echoing claims of a political plot, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande said Zuma’s usual rejoinder is that one day he will reveal the source of the smears. It is time to tell the truth now, he added.

Nzimande said a group of men and women “sat smoking and drinking” and decided that they do not want Zuma, who was South Africa’s deputy president at the time, to become the president.

“They concocted a plot to prevent him from becoming president. Those were the same people who managed to kick out Cyril Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa.

“There are those who say why doesn’t the ANC remove Zuma as the ANC president — if we heed that call we’ll be turning our country into a banana republic. We will be satisfying those who concocted plots in 1999 against some members of the ANC. If we heed that call, we will be building a situation where in the future people who don’t like other people would use plots to kick them out.”

The speeches ended at around noon, and many supporters stayed on to listen to music and have lunch. The rest of Pietermaritzburg carried on with its business, as the hype around Zuma’s court appearances wore off. By the end of the day, the police reported that the rally had gone smoothly.

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