The so-called radical economic transformation (RET) faction in the ANC appears to be rallying support around former president Jacob Zuma’s next court appearance, as the group looks to strengthen its power base ahead of the party’s crucial national general council (NGC).
While the group of ANC members, many of whom claim to be the “unwanteds” under Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership, have always rallied around Zuma, it’s understood his future isn’t the RET faction’s primary concern.
The treatment of Zuma during his recent illness and the issuing of a stayed warrant of arrest by the KwaZulu-Natal High Court last month, offered the faction opportunities to reinvigorate their fight against Ramaphosa, a number of ANC members sympathetic to the RET group’s cause recently told News24.
News24 understands the RET faction will host a series of events, including a march to Luthuli House in Johannesburg, ahead of Zuma’s next appearance for his corruption and fraud trial in the High Court on May 6.
“On the 4th of May there must be a march to Luthuli House; from there we make our way to Maritzburg for a night vigil on the 5th and then come the 6th, we will be by his side. He wants to attend his trial, Lord willing his health allows of course,” a leading RET supporter, who is also an ANC member, told News24 on condition of anonymity.
Many of those opposed to Ramaphosa’s leadership are also angry over his public silence about Zuma’s illness.
“He could have closed that Sona (State of the Nation Address) reply with a message to Msholozi,” said a member of Parliament linked to the RET movement.
“The president can’t bring himself to say get well? To pick up the phone and reach out to a comrade,” said the ANC MP.
On Sunday, ANC secretary general Ace Magashule told party members in the Western Cape there was nothing wrong with supporting Zuma during his trial.
“The position of the ANC is that former president Jacob Zuma must be supported. What is the problem?
“It is the ANC position, not my position, and individuals and members of the ANC have been supporting Zuma. There is nothing wrong. He is a member of the ANC,” said Magashule.
One of the RET faction sympathisers News24 spoke to claimed the situation between Ramaphosa and Zuma was too far gone, with the latter having apparently declared: “The time for talking is over.”
A number of people in Zuma’s inner circle have claimed the two were set to meet following the former leader’s return from Cuba, where he had received medical treatment.
The RET campaigner also admitted while they were vigorous about Zuma’s cause, his time had come and gone, explaining that the former leader’s current troubles created an opportunity for them to test the ground and plot their way toward the NGC.
“The NGC is our launch pad, it’s not the end. A victory on issues there automatically launches the campaign to the next conference,” he told News24.
The conference referred to is the ANC’s 2022 elective congress, where a new set of officials and national executive committee members will be elected by the party’s branches.
While there has been speculation about whether Ramaphosa is willing to return as party president, following his narrow win in 2017 and the growing list of challenges, including dysfunctional state-owned enterprises, a sluggish economy and a looming stand-off with public sector unions over wage cuts, it seems those who oppose him have already started discussions on a new leader.
Magashule, water affairs minister Lindiwe Sisulu and even cooperative governance minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma are said to be some of the names being discussed as a possible leader. Sources admit that if proposed, Magashule would likely not emerge victorious.
“Make no mistake, the NGC is a fight about policies. Some of us are not confused about the potential outcomes,” said the RET faction sympathiser.
Those aligned with the RET group have been severely criticised, and were accused of being ill-disciplined and creating a structure outside the former liberation movement.
“Yes, Cyril won the leadership, but we won the resolutions. [The] ANC must charge these people,” one ANC regional leader in Gauteng told News24.
The same leader said when it came to the “Zuma defence force” he was baffled as the former president had always expressed wanting to have his day in court.
“Honestly, they can’t justify the noise they are making; no one wants to arrest him that is just court procedure. He wanted his day in court. I understand now he’s sick but really there is no need to act like he is under attack,” said the ANC member.
An ANC leader in the Free State said he believed the RET faction wanted to “frustrate” Ramaphosa.
“They have cash flow, it’s not like all the municipalities in the country are under Cyril.
“They want to weaken the president and to intimidate the [National Prosecuting Authority]. Once they frustrate Cyril, he won’t be able to focus on anything but endless fires.
“They need time and space to fight,” he added.