LISTEN | 'He is not fit enough to be out in public': Uncertainty over whether Jacob Zuma will attend 'welcome prayer'
As scores of former president Jacob Zuma supporters were expected to descend to People’s Park at the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Thursday, it remains to be seen whether the man of the hour will himself be present.
Some family members who spoke to TimesLIVE on Wednesday said there was confusion over the planned “welcome prayer”, as the former head of state was expecting a visit from religious leaders at his homestead in Nkandla, in the heart of KwaZulu-Natal, on the same day.
Zuma’s 80-year-old brother Joseph said: “I am not going to Durban. I don’t think he is going either. He said something about churchgoers coming for a prayer session here at home. I am really not sure what is happening. I received a call saying they will be here at 9am. It looks like there are two prayer sessions. I really don’t know.”
Various churches, traditionalists, musicians and political parties are expected to gather at People's Park to give thanks and celebrate Zuma’s return after he was released on medical parole from Estcourt prison last month.
The 79-year-old was admitted to hospital for medical observation on September 6. The department of correctional services announced earlier in September that he was being placed on medical parole due to ill health.
The announcement came 58 days after he was admitted as an inmate at the correctional facility. Zuma started serving his sentence in July after being found guilty of contempt of court for failure to comply with an order of the Constitutional Court to honour a summons to appear before the state capture inquiry.
He was sentenced to 15 months behind bars and spent several weeks of his incarceration in the medical wing of the prison before he was moved to an outside hospital for further treatment.
When asked if Zuma would be attending the prayer meeting, correctional services department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said that when a parolee moved from one district to another they had to inform the parole officer.
Nxumalo said he was not at liberty to divulge whether this process was followed as “parole conditions are matters between a parolee and the department of correctional services”.
During a press briefing last week, Jacob G Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi said he could not confirm if Zuma would be at the event.
Listen to what he had to say:
“Let’s just pray that he is there but the situation is still fluid because president Zuma is still on medical parole, his condition is a fluid condition, so we hope on the day, the situation will be such that the doctors can allow him to be there,” he said.
Two sources close to Zuma, who asked not to be named, said though the former president was on the mend, he will not be attending the event.
“He will address them via Zoom, as far as we know. He won’t be there, unless he changes his mind,” said one source.
The other, who lives in the homestead, said Zuma had indicated that he will not be attending the gathering.
“He is not fit enough to be out in public. The last time I spoke to him he was not going. This thing does not make sense. Why would they make a prayer in Durban when they know that he is sick in Nkandla? Why did they not do it in Nkandla?
“Maybe what they will do is place a screen in front of him; he listens to the messages of support and then respond,” the family member said.
If he does attend, it will be Zuma's first public appearance since being released. The last time he spoke in public was at Nkandla, just before he handed himself over to start serving his sentence.
Last week Tuesday, Zuma surprised many when his foundation released a video in which he encouraged South Africans to vote in the upcoming local government elections.
Grand plans to celebrate his return to kwaDakwadunuse were earlier placed on hold because Zuma had apparently been unwell. Since he returned home, TimesLIVE was told, he had not been his “charming and ever-laughing JZ, who is full of jokes”.
His other brother, Khanya, previously told TimesLIVE that Zuma had been unwell since he was “poisoned” in 2014 and that was the case even before he was admitted to hospital. The Sunday Times reported previously that Zuma travelled to Russia to confirm the diagnosis and undergo treatment.
On Wednesday, Khanya said his wife had informed him about the prayer in Durban.
“I don’t think my brother is going. Ever since he came back from prison we have been inseparable, but I have not seen him lately. If there is something happening in the homestead, I will go because that’s our home,” he said.
When asked how Zuma’s health was, Khanya said in isiZulu: “Insizwa leya, iyaphila. Ihlale ithi bangisabisa ngejele, abazi ukuthi ijele ikhaya engakhulela kulona.”
Meaning: “That guy (Zuma) is alive and well. He always says to me, they are threatening me with jail time, but they don't know that prison is my second home.”
Zuma’s nephew, Inkosi Simphiwe Zuma of the kwaNxamalala Tribal Authority, said he would not be attending the event as he had another commitment.
“But all the clan members from Mpendle and elsewhere will be attending.”
Simphiwe, who has always maintained that it was still premature to celebrate as Zuma still faced a mammoth court battle, said the family was still going to plan a “proper thanksgiving” to welcome the former president back home.
“This is not how the clan would do things. There is a traditional and cultural way of informing the ancestors that he is back home. So we are still going to plan that,” he said.
The councillor for Ward 14, under which Zuma’s homestead falls, Bongukwakhe Mbambo, said he did not receive an official invite from the organisers but he will be attending the Durban service nonetheless.
“As a community we do not have an official plan to transport the neighbours to Durban because no-one told us about the service. Remember that this is being organised by the churches so you cannot have people who do not go to church going to that event,” he said.