ANC gags Cyril Ramaphosa's critics
Softer line on Jacob Zuma traded for less vitriol at courthouse rallies
Top ANC officials have muzzled Jacob Zuma's supporters, among them some of President Cyril Ramaphosa's most strident critics, by banning them from speaking at the former president's court appearances.
Known Ramaphosa critics such as former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama and others were barred from addressing Zuma supporters outside the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg on Friday on the instruction of Luthuli House.
Zuma's previous court appearances have degenerated into a platform to bash Ramaphosa. Speakers have lambasted the president, who replaced Zuma early this year and has led a cleanup campaign that has purged some of Zuma's allies in the government and state-owned enterprises.
It is understood that behind the decision is panic among provincial party leaders who have aligned themselves with Ramaphosa and who fear that the ANC's January 8 rally at Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban could be used to embarrass the president.
Party insiders said the KwaZulu-Natal provincial leadership, especially chair Sihle Zikalala, fear the rally will lay bare divisions in the ANC ahead of the elections, and assert Zuma's popularity over Ramaphosa's.
Playing the victim and rallying his backers outside court has worked in Zuma's favour before. As far back as 2006, he used court appearances to drum up support, which contributed to his march to victory against the odds at the ANC's national conference at Polokwane in 2007.
ANC top officials met KwaZulu-Natal ANC leaders last month, and a decision was taken that Ramaphosa's critics would no longer be allocated speaking time during the activities outside court. In return, Zuma would play a role in party events in future and his supporters would be included in ANC programmes.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli confirmed the decision was taken after a meeting with party top brass.
"This event attracts a lot of people, among those are people hostile to the ANC or to the current leadership of the ANC.
"If the ANC cannot be on that stage or take charge of logistics around that, what happens at that case will continue to be an occasion of undermining the integrity of the ANC," he said.
"We don't have a problem with who supports JZ, but what they do in that platform is what we care about," Ntuli said.
Ntuli also revealed that the KwaZulu-Natal ANC has lobbied ANC leaders to review a national executive committee decision not to officially support Zuma at his court appearances. He said the ANC's top brass asked for time to reflect on the matter but insisted that provincial leaders who want to support Zuma should do so in their personal capacity.
The Sunday Times can reveal that Mngxitama and his group were preparing to address the crowd outside court on Friday when they were told of the party's decision.
The KwaZulu-Natal ANC met the organisers and instructed them not to include anti-Ramaphosa leaders on the speaker list.
ANC MPL Bishop Vusi Dube of the National Interfaith Council of SA, one of the organisers, said there was an "in-depth" talk about people who use the court platform to speak against Ramaphosa.
"What is important is to support Msholozi - not to be critical against the ANC. Others have used the platform to campaign for their organisations. We wouldn't allow that," he said. "We confiscated placards that people were holding that said 'We are going to vote for Zuma in 2019' … Our interest is not to ruffle political feathers. What's important for us is that we are there to support Msholozi, who is a member of the ANC," he said.
Staunch Zuma supporter Carl Niehaus, who has previously used Zuma's court appearances to lambast Ramaphosa and his allies, said he was satisfied that "the ANC leadership realised they can't put a distance between Msholozi and the ANC".
He said: "The ANC has finally realised that Msholozi is the ANC and no matter what, he will always be popular."
But the Sunday Times understands that Zuma's backers in the province are unhappy with the decision.
A fierce Zuma supporter who was excluded from the programme said the gag order was a clear indication Ramaphosa's supporters were panicking ahead of the January celebrations.
"We did not push hard because we did not want to create unnecessary tension," said the supporter. "When January 8 comes it will become clear who is the real president."
Mngxitama said though he accepted the ANC's decision, the party was incapable of "protecting" Zuma.
"President Zuma loves the ANC. But the ANC leadership is not going to protect president Zuma. It therefore becomes the responsibility of the RET [radical economic transformation ] forces to protect him."
On Friday, Zuma changed tack when addressing supporters outside court, saying he was still very much part of the ANC.
"If you won't vote for the ANC because of Zuma, you're punishing the whole ANC," he said, adding: "I'm an ANC member and I'll die for it. I joined the ANC, the ANC never joined me."
Zuma's case was postponed to May 20. The former president faces 16 charges that include fraud, corruption and racketeering.
These relate to 783 payments that he allegedly received as bribes to protect French company Thales from an investigation into the multibillion-rand arms deal.
- Additional reporting by Nivashni Nair..