The Zuma elephant in the NEC room
Former president's silent, watchful presence in NEC meetings feels like 'intimidation'
Former president Jacob Zuma's continued presence in ANC national executive committee meetings is causing ructions in the ANC, with senior party leaders accusing him of trying to intimidate them.
Several ANC NEC members, who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity, said there was widespread unhappiness about Zuma attending meetings of the party's highest decision-making body.
Zuma even attended the special NEC last Monday.
They accused the former president of trying to muzzle NEC members who seek to discuss the mess created by his administration.
"He does not [contribute during discussions]. That's what worries us. He just sits there and doesn't open his mouth. I have never seen a man who attends a meeting where he does not contribute to the debate, but remains punctual and sits there until it ends. He sits there in the back and watches," said an NEC member.
"It becomes awkward ... you end up questioning, what is this guy really doing? Some people see it as some kind of intimidation of some sort."[It's like he is monitoring] who is speaking, who is not speaking. Who is selling me out, who is not? The reason is that there are still issues that affect him, like the integrity commission, issues about corruption and SARS ... that [get discussed at the NEC]."
Zuma is an ex officio member of the NEC by virtue of being a former ANC president and is allowed to attend its meetings, as are all former presidents. However, Zuma is the first former president to become a regular at NEC meetings after leaving office.
Former president Thabo Mbeki has not attended a single NEC meeting since losing at the Polokwane conference in 2007.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's backers, who were hoping to go to next year's elections with a Zuma-free ANC, are peeved by his presence as it sends a message to voters that Zuma is still part of the top leadership.
"None of the ex-presidents attend the NEC on a regular basis. He is the only one that has been consistent. Ever since Nasrec, he has not missed a single meeting," said the NEC member.
"If a meeting sits for two days, he attends the full two days."
Another NEC member said he had been approached by several of his colleagues who were uneasy about Zuma's presence. "It is a source of protestation. He thinks that when he is there people will not raise matters about him."
Zuma's spokesman, Vukile Mathabela, rubbished claims that the former president's presence intimidated NEC members.
"The secretary-general of the ANC sent an invite to all the former presidents of the ANC to attend the NEC meetings and ANC programmes ... I doubt all the 80 members of the NEC speak in every meeting," said Mathabela.
He said there was something wrong with leaders who were intimidated by Zuma's presence.
"It's just hogwash. What kind of hogwash is that? If he attends NEC meetings, he intimidates people? No one can intimidate someone by their presence," he said.He said Zuma brought experience to the NEC as he was the longest-serving member of the structure and ANC leaders should thank their lucky stars to be rubbing shoulders with him.
"A disciplined member of the ANC should be grateful to say: 'At least I am sitting in an NEC meeting with someone who once attended an NEC meeting with OR Tambo, with Mandela, with so many other ANC leaders.'"
An NEC member sympathetic to Zuma accused his colleagues of being cowards. He said Ramaphosa's backers were always attacking Zuma's supporters in meetings.
"They are always arguing for structures to be disbanded," he said.
At Monday's meeting, he said, Cosatu deputy president Zingiswa Losi and Eastern Cape MEC Pemmy Majodina argued for the Free State provincial executive committee to be disbanded. This, according to the NEC member, was avoided because a detailed report was presented, showing that due process had been followed in preparation for the conference.Losi denied calling for the disbandment of the Free State executive committee.
"That's not true, I didn't. I only stood up to ask a clarity question but I never spoke on the disbandment ... it was a question relating to the Free State," said Losi.
She declined to say what she had asked, saying that would be tantamount to revealing discussions of the NEC.
"By saying 'This is what I said', I am now relating who said what [at the meeting]," said Losi.
Majodina declined to comment.