Former president Jacob Zuma has questioned whether there was foul play involved in the death of ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte.
Zuma’s foundation released a statement on Thursday, in which the former president expressed concern at the deaths of ANC leaders in recent times, saying this was “worrying very deeply”.
“In the recent past our key comrades have been dying at the rate that we have not seen before,” Zuma said.
“This has happened in the past few years. This has indeed been worrying that in a short space of time so many comrades have died without being very sick at all.
“Suddenly they get sick and die, why? Is this normal? Certainly, it leaves many of us worried and suspicious. I hope there is no foul play and I believe one day, if there was foul play, we will get to know,” he added.
Duarte’s family revealed that she had been battling cancer. She had been on medical leave since November 2021.
The ANC deputy secretary-general passed away at the age of 68 in the early hours of Sunday.
‘A comrade, a friend’
Zuma paid tribute to Duarte since he couldn’t attend her memorial, describing the ANC deputy secretary-general as a principled cadre who dedicated her life to the unity of the governing party.
“Comrade Jessie has been as much a comrade, a friend and sister to me, despite the difference in age.
“Her relationship with everyone was based on principle, and she fought against the tendencies to look at issues through the eyes of unprincipled factionalism and favours of wealth and economic power,” the former president said.
Meanwhile, former National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete also paid tribute to Duarte at her memorial.
“Back in February, she sent a message that showed she was not at peace even though she was lying in hospital, when she was thinking of the organisation.
“She was thinking of what is going to happen in December, she was thinking about the retrogression that was registered in the last conference, whereas the conference before had elected two women officials, the last one went back and had one,” she said.
Mbete said Duarte was looking forward to seeing more women elected into leadership positions at the ANC’s upcoming national conference in December.
“The correct interpretation on our 50/50 [policy] on women should be realised in the December conference.
“We believe a deliberate discussion must be agreed upon, structured and must enable us to have an engagement in a relevant forum to ensure, in the name of Jessie, this time, the ANC implements its stated policy position,” she added.