Pain forces President Jacob Zuma to leave duties

2014-06-08 15:00

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President Jacob Zuma complained of a pain in his neck on Friday and was unable to ­finish his speech at the ANC’s lekgotla in Pretoria.

The ANC announced then that it had ordered him to rest after a gruelling election campaign, but yesterday, the presidency said he had been admitted to hospital “for tests”.

Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, said that the 72-year-old was admitted to hospital “for tests” yesterday and ­“doctors are satisfied with his condition”.

Maharaj said it was a hospital in Pretoria, but refused to reveal which one.

It is expected that Zuma will rest for about three to four days. His next major public appearance is his state of the nation address, the first in front of the fifth Parliament, on June 19.

ANC leaders ordered Zuma to rest and work from home after he was forced to leave his party’s national executive committee lekgotla on Friday morning.

A party member who attended the lekgotla said Zuma stopped speaking less than 10 minutes into his speech, ­saying he had a “pain in the neck”.

Zuma told the meeting that the doctor had told him the pain was related to stress.

But a source close to Zuma’s medical team said two weeks ago that doctors were concerned about his condition.

Zuma, who is considered fit for his age and is known for leading a healthy lifestyle that excludes sugar, alcohol and caffeine, had a full programme of campaigning in the run-up to the elections.

When he announced his Cabinet two weeks ago, he looked tired and did not joke with journalists as he usually does.

On Friday, Zuma left his political oversight speech to his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, to finish and left the meeting after Ramaphosa had spoken.

The ANC also deployed Ramaphosa to complete Zuma’s tasks on Friday?–?a speech to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union conference and the swearing- in of newly appointed deputy minister of science and ­technology Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi.

Ramaphosa told the union: “Following a gruelling ­election campaign, we found that he needed to rest.”

A statement initially said Zuma would attend kaMagwaza-Msibi’s swearing-in, but a lawyer later told the presidency that it was not legally necessary for Zuma to be present as had previously been advised.

Although Ramaphosa officiated during the engagements that Zuma could not attend, Maharaj said it was unnecessary to appoint an acting president because Zuma had not been hospitalised, but was merely admitted for tests.

Zuma attended and addressed at least 60 ANC and ­government events in the first four months of this year until the May 7 elections, after which he slowed down and had about five public engagements.

However, the appointment of his Cabinet meant overnight consultations following his May 24 inauguration.

Signs of strain were evident during this year’s elections campaign like the day after the release of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report on March 19, when Zuma looked visibly sleep-deprived and could barely muster enough energy to address a crowd in Tlokwe.

A week or two before that, he pulled out of attending a historical service for the late Nelson ­Mandela at Westminster Abbey in London, a step so radical that it raised eyebrows in diplomatic circles.

Early in February, Zuma cancelled a campaign visit to Soweto at short notice, saying he was going to his home in Nkandla to relax ahead of his state of the nation address.

In January, Zuma reportedly spent three hours receiving treatment at Durban’s Life Entabeni Hospital and the speculation was that he had seen his cardiologist, Dr Vijay Deenadayalu.

In March last year, the presidency announced that Zuma had gone to hospital for a “routine annual checkup” and was given a clean bill of health.

During last year’s state of the nation ­address in February, he was suffering from a severe bout of flu.

Zuma usually goes for his routine annual checkups in December or January, which means that yesterday’s ­checkup was not routine.

Zuma’s hospital visit earlier this year sparked speculation that his health would be used as a way to manage his early exit from the presidency.

The president has been increasingly criticised from ­within his party for a slew of personal scandals.

The most recent one was the revelation of excessive spending on security upgrades at his Nkandla home.

Zuma is widely expected to step down as ANC president in 2017, but his tenure as ­president ends in 2019.

However, there is the possibility that he could turn into a lame duck president once a new party leader has been elected.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa tried to play down Zuma’s forced leave, saying that ANC leaders had been taking turns to take a rest.

Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe “was away for nine days and he only came back on Thursday, and after this meeting, he’s going back on holiday”, Kodwa said.

“So it was the president’s time [to go on leave]. The deputy secretary-general [Jessie Duarte] and the treasurer-general [Zweli Mkhize] will also get time off,” he said. “The campaign was very intense.”

DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said in a statement yesterday: “We wish the president a speedy recovery.”

–?Additional reporting by Zinhle Mapumulo and ­Athandiwe Saba

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