Former president Jacob Zuma's supporters have defied a directive by the ruling party's highest decision-making body restraining them from wearing ANC regalia in support of Zuma in connection with his imminent court case.
The supporters carried ANC flags and wore the party's regalia at a night vigil held at Albert Park on Thursday night.
The park is less than a kilometre away from the Durban High Court where Zuma is set to appear on 16 charges relating to 783 payments, which it is claimed he received in connection with the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.
After its three-day meeting in Cape Town two weeks ago, the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) said in a statement, without mentioning Zuma's name, that it understood both the ANC and society had the right to express their sympathy and solidarity with those called to account by law enforcement agencies, the courts and a judicial commission of inquiry.
However, it resolved that those who wanted to show their support could only do so in their individual capacities and not through the structures of the 106-year-old liberation movement.
Samke Mgwaba from the ANC's Dumisani Makhaye branch in Eshowe told News24 that she wore her ANC regalia because she and other Zuma supporters wanted him to see that there were still ANC members who supported him when he appeared in court on Friday.
Demand and supply
"We do follow ANC directives but for now we feel that there's a witch-hunt against him and that's why we chose to wear the ANC gear," she said, adding that they were bused from Eshowe to Durban.
Mgwaba said they believed that Zuma was innocent.
"The charges against him were dropped before; why are they reinstated after such a long time and when he is no longer a president?" she asked.
Moses Mabhida region member Musa Mbokazi – who sold ANC regalia at the park – said the ANC gear was in demand and he and other hawkers would supply it.
"We're here because of Zuma and we know him as our president and that would never change. We heard about the ANC NEC's decision but we're here to sell what people want. You can see for yourself that they are buying the items and the majority of them are in ANC colours," he said.
Mpume Nyawose, a vendor who had a stall at the park, said those who were at the park were there to support Zuma.
"He is a multi-scarred bull. They'll always throw cases at him but we will never stop supporting him," said the Pietermaritzburg resident.
'We can't police people'
Carl Niehaus, spokesperson for the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans' Association, told News24 at the vigil that people could wear and sell what they wanted.
"We can't really try to prescribe to people what they can sell at the vigil and also we can't prescribe or police what people will be wearing when they arrive tomorrow (Friday)."
However, Niehaus said, he personally accepted the ruling of the ANC NEC that party members could support Zuma as individuals and as organisations that are not directly under the control of the ANC.
"I'm not wearing an ANC T-shirt tonight (Thursday), I'm wearing a T-shirt of the Inkululeko Foundation, which is an independent non-profit organisation that supports military veterans. I'm wearing specifically this T-shirt because comrade Zuma is a military veteran," he said.
He said Zuma made a huge contribution to the liberation struggle and was a commander of uMkhonto weSizwe.
Claims of a witch-hunt
"I'm here in my individual capacity also. When I was a political prisoner in the early 80s the first political leader from the ANC who came from exile that visited me from the ANC was comrade Jacob Zuma. He gave me incredibly strong support. Why should I not, as a fellow comrade, support him now when he is in a period of difficulty?
"I think it will be morally wrong of me not to do that especially in the light of the kind of friendship and comradeship that he had shown to me," he said.
Earlier, Zuma's son Edward Zuma said he believed that there was a witch-hunt against his father.
Edward is part of a group of organisations calling themselves the "Defenders of Radical Economic Transformation" which organised a march from the Durban University of Technology's Steve Biko campus to Albert Park.
Edward told reporters that people "correctly" believed in his father's innocence.
"They are justified in the manner they are gathering as we all believe that there's a witch-hunt against the former president and it is from all corners and all levels," he said.
More than 200 buses expected
When asked how his father was feeling ahead of his court appearance, Edward said: "I would want to believe that as an innocent man, he is definitely not worried though I've not spoken to him for some time."
One of the vigil organisers Bishop Vusi Dube has announced that they were still expecting 17 buses to arrive at the vigil. He said they expected about 200 buses to arrive on Friday.
The charges against Zuma were dropped in 2009; however, embattled National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams announced on March 16 that they would prosecute the former president.
He said Zuma would be prosecuted for one count of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud.
Abrahams said he was of the view that there were reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution of Zuma.
The charges were withdrawn just before Zuma was sworn in for his first term as president of the country.
Arms deal manufacturer Thint is expected to appear alongside Zuma.