President Jacob Zuma never thought one day he would be president and thanked ANC members for voting him into power – but he also warned those who want to get rid of him he was not going anywhere even after finishing his second term in 2019.
Zuma was speaking at the third Amathole regional conference last night where he addressed 350 delegates at the Mpekweni Beach Resort near Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape.
The president had earlier yesterday visited the Nelson Mandela Bay regional conference in Port Elizabeth.
The Amathole – the second biggest region in the province with more than 21 000 members – is important in ANC politics ahead of the December elective conference where Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa are the main contenders to take over the ANC top job and eventually the country’s highest office.
“I am happy I had time to pass through here to say hello because in December 2017 I will leave this position to the president of the ANC. I have completed my two terms. So next year I will no longer be talking as a president [of the ANC]. And I am happy that you gave me the opportunity which I never expected in my life until it happened, that I would ever become a president,” Zuma said.
Zuma – who is on the record as saying that the country was ready for a women president – with Dlamini-Zuma a firm favourite to succeed him, said he was not “disappearing” and would continue being a member of the ANC in good standing.
“I will be in my branch. We will meet as delegates in the gatherings of the ANC. Rest assured I will always be there. And I have made it known that once 2019 comes and I stop being the president of the country I will go to my branch and volunteer in the ANC to work in two departments – organising and political education,” he said.
Zuma went as far as saying he did not want to be president in the first place because of the enormous responsibilities the position carries, where the head of state was at times forced to make difficult decisions which he could not explain to the population.
Speaking in the context of global politics where as president he has to make tough decisions in the interest of the country against big global players with different interests, Zuma admitted to lead was a difficult thing.
“I did not want to become a president because I knew all these difficulties. I did not want to face these. I thought if I could just be there behind leaders assisting would be fine as I used to do, than to lead. Because to lead is a difficult thing. You are faced with decisions to take and if you have this knowledge it comes even more difficult because you are taking decisions you cannot explain to anyone. If you explain it could impact very negatively to the organisation itself. You just have to be brave and keep quiet,” he said.
Meanwhile Zuma also defended his stance on what he calls “clever blacks”, saying most of the journalists in the country were blacks and trying to be “very clever” about the ANC, criticising it every chance they get.
“Then I say to myself these people [journalists] are clever blacks. We can debate this, I have never challenged it. But once I am an ordinary ANC member I will challenge it and explain what I mean. But clever blacks know themselves,” Zuma said, with his usual chuckle.
Zuma also called on members to hold leaders to account when they do wrong in the organisation, saying there was no member who was more important than another.
“Each member of the ANC is as important as another. There is no member who is more important than another. It is us who make some of us look as if they are more important because it is us who elect them. The problem that we have is that we are failing to tell our comrades if they go wrong. We become scared of the people we elected,” Zuma said.
He said it was important to call leaders to order before a lot of damage was done.
“You must intervene early when a person is doing wrong in the organisation, and say mfondini [Sir] you are ruining this organisation. And if he does not want to listen, say we are going to remove you. If you could treat us like that, we would not do wrong things in the positions you put us in,” Zuma said, adding that one of the golden threat of an organisation was unity of its members.