Zuma Causing ANC Major Damage, Say Descendants of Party Grandees

  • Group seeks meeting to discuss president's leadership
  • Highest court found president in breach of constitution

South African President Jacob Zuma recently saw the country's highest court rule that he failed to abide by and respect the country's constitution

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

The crisis surrounding South African President Jacob Zuma worsened as a group of 42 prominent ANC members called for an emergency meeting to discuss the party’s leadership.

Zuma’s failure to repay taxpayers’ money spent on his private home, which the nation’s highest court said violated the constitution, was patently illegal, as was parliament’s decision to defend him, the group said in a letter to the ANC’s National Executive Committee which was obtained by Bloomberg. The signatories include three descendants of Walter Sisulu, one of Nelson Mandela’s closest confidants, four relatives of Mendi Msimang, a former ANC treasurer-general, and Thandi Modise, the chairwoman of the National Council of Provinces. 

QuickTake South Africa

The ANC must “call a special national conference as a matter of urgency in order to assess the conduct of the organization and the leadership and to determine the appropriateness of the leadership to take the organization forward,” said the group, who are former members of “Masupatsela,” or young pioneers, and were born or raised in exile during the era of white-minority rule.

The letter marked a new challenge to Zuma’s seven-year-old administration, which has been marred by controversy, and comes months before local elections on Aug. 3. His decision in December to replace his respected finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little-known lawmaker sparked a selloff of the rand and the nation’s bonds. The home-upgrade scandal has further dented confidence in an administration that’s struggling to revive a stagnating economy and cut a 25 percent unemployment rate.

The reaction of the president and the ANC “has been bereft of an acknowledgment of accountability, remorse and empathy” and has “fundamentally undermined the moral integrity of our movement,” the signatories of the letter said.

The rand pared losses after the news of the letter, following an earlier decline of as much as 1.3 percent. The currency traded 0.9 percent weaker at 15.2107 against the dollar as of 6:24 p.m. in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Good Faith

The ANC’s leadership has rallied behind Zuma, 73, since the nation’s highest court ruled on March 31 that the president “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution” because he didn’t abide by the nation’s graft ombudsman’s 2014 directive to repay taxpayer money spent on renovating his private home. While Zuma apologized for the frustration and confusion the scandal had caused, he said he acted in good faith and never intentionally did anything illegal.

“It is clear that momentum is building up against Zuma,” Keith Gottschalk, a political scientist at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, said by phone. “However, up until now Zuma’s supporters have been able to to outvote his detractors by two to one in ANC structures. There is no real sign of him going yet.”

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said by phone that the party hadn’t seen the letter and he couldn’t comment on it.

The ANC’s former intelligence chief, Zuma took office in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. His allies dominate the ANC’s National Executive Committee, one of its top decision-making structures, and key positions in government.

Church leaders, civil rights groups, opposition parties and a number of ANC veterans have also called for Zuma to step down or be fired since the court ruling.

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