Zuma sidesteps flames

President Jacob Zuma left the ANC in Gauteng hanging after cancelling planned voter ­registration weekend visits to Soweto, Orange Farm and ­Lenasia to “relax” at his ­Nkandla home.

Zuma’s trip to KwaZulu-Natal on what the ­presidency called “personal” business caught the party’s Gauteng leaders by surprise and came at the end of a week marked by a fresh wave of violent service-delivery protests in the province.

Two Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) voting stations were petrol-bombed yesterday and residents refused IEC staff access to the area.

Police figures show that between November and January, 2 947 service-delivery protests have taken place across the country, most of them in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape.

Just more than 3 000 protests took place ­between January 2009 and August 2012.

Police figures show the protests are becoming increasingly violent. In all provinces except the Western Cape, more violent protests took place in January than in the previous two months.

President Jacob Zuma has ducked a crucial campaign visit to Soweto voters to “relax” at his home in ­Nkandla. Zuma yesterday surprised ANC leaders in Gauteng – who had planned voter-registration visits with him to Soweto, Lenasia and Orange Farm – by preferring to go to KwaZulu-Natal on “personal” ­business instead.

The DA has been running an aggressive elections campaign in these areas in a bid to win Gauteng in the May elections.

Zuma’s cancellation follows a week in which a fresh wave of violent service delivery protests swept the province, and disgruntled Bekkersdal residents yesterday refused the Independent Electoral Commission ­entry to the township.

Police figures show that between November and January, 2?947 service delivery protests took place across the country, most of them in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Western Cape. In contrast, between January 2009 and August 2012, 3?258 protests took place.

The protests, the police figures show, are also becoming increasingly violent. In all provinces except the Western Cape, significantly more violent protests took place in January than in the previous two months.

November saw 115 violent protests take place across the country, but by January, the number had risen to 180.

Despite this, political leaders are not rushing to the protest hot spots as they have done in the past because they believe an ambulance-chasing approach simply adds fuel to the fire, said a senior government leader.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, whose party the ANC blamed this week for being part of the “third force” stoking the protests, yesterday questioned Zuma’s absence.

This week, French news agency AFP shot a picture of EFF members in Hebron, North West, apparently distributing old tyres from a party-branded bakkie. The tyres were allegedly given to protesters to use as burning barricades.

“People are protesting, but the president is nowhere to be seen,” Malema told City Press by telephone.

He said it was “naive, disingenuous and dishonest to blame the EFF” for the protests “when we knew Zuma was ushered in by protests”. He said the protests happened because people have lost respect for the ­government.

“Only the EFF can stop all these, but we are not going to do it because we are not going to be used as firefighters. Let the government take responsibility and prevail over protests in South Africa,” he said.

Although the EFF did not support violent protests, the party was organising lawyers and bail money for those who were arrested, Malema said.

Zuma, who announced on Friday that the elections would be held on May 7, visited two voter-registration stations near his home yesterday, his spokesperson Mac Maharaj said. He will spend today “at home, resting, ahead of a full week”, Maharaj said.

Zuma’s cancellation took the ANC in Gauteng by surprise, but they denied it was a snub. A leader of the party in the province said the relationship between Zuma and the provincial ANC leadership “has improved a lot”. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa stood in for Zuma yesterday.

Zuma was booed by mourners, believed to be part of the ANC in Gauteng, at former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in Soweto in December.

The reduction of Zuma’s elections programme also comes amid ­reports that he has health concerns brought on by work and family stresses, the Sunday Times reported.

Last month, he spent a few hours at Durban’s Life Entabeni Hospital for an unscheduled checkup. This week it was reported that his son, Duduzane, faces culpable homicide charges after crashing his Porsche into a taxi in Midrand. A 14-year-old boy died in the accident.

Cooperative Governance Minister Lechesa Tsenoli told City Press he did not chase after each protest because interventions had to be sustain-able. “Unfortunately, we can’t be at every community, but we can give them the support we do,” he said.

Tsenoli said his department was working with provincial and local governments in areas where there were problems.

“One of the reasons the protests are hotting up, so to speak, is because of the [election] period we are in,” he said.

Tsenoli said he expected protests to die down as the elections drew closer because more leaders were “interacting with communities on a regular basis”.

Zuma spent most of this week at a Cabinet lekgotla preparing for his state of the nation speech on Thursday, which, Tsenoli said, would ­include references to service delivery protests.

Meanwhile in Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, where a protester was killed allegedly by an ANC supporter this week, residents were disappointed yesterday when ANC chairperson Baleka Mbete failed to show up for a door-to-door campaign.

“We expected Baleka to come here and convince us why we should vote for ANC,” said one of the residents, Lehlohonolo Tlali. “Sebokeng has so many problems and lately there were protest ­marches, but it looks like our leaders do not care about our votes.”

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said that Mbete had to attend a funeral.

Protests in SA

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