Zuma slammed for saying ANC comes first, not the country


Law experts, a political analyst and opposition parties lashed out at South Africa President Jacob Zuma for telling delegates at the ANC KwaZulu-Natal elective conference in Pietermaritzburg over the weekend that the party came before the state.

Addressing the 1 400 delegates, he said: “I argued one time with someone who said the country comes first. I said as much as I understand that, I think my organisation, the ANC, comes first.”

Paul Hoffman, of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa, said party versus constitution had always been problematic for Zuma.

“There is always that problem about loyalty to the constitution – as required of all publicly elected representatives, from the president down to a councillor. They all swear allegiance to the constitution,” he said.

“The president has taken an oath of office to uphold the constitution and to swear to the values and principles of the constitution. We accept that, as a president, he will belong to a specific political party but his primary obligation is to the country,” Naidoo said.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said Zuma’s comments were insensitive and there was no way of justifying the remark.

“The state presides above the party,” Mathekga said. “For the president to say his party comes first, it says if he were to choose between the interests of the party and those of the state, he would push the interests of the party.”

Lawson Naidoo, of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, said that if Zuma found himself in a conflict of interest, “the constitution clearly comes first”.

It raised serious questions about the separation of the party and the state and how people understood their responsibilities.

The DA’s spokeswoman, Refiloe Nt’sekhe, said Zuma should be “deeply ashamed” of the comments. They were “unbecoming of a president who has sworn an oath to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa”.

She demanded that Zuma retract and apologise “immediately”.

“It is an insult to every single South African, a violation of his oath of office, and cannot be left unchallenged,” she said.

“It is this kind of sentiment that allows for abuse of power – to the detriment of ordinary citizens – in the name of the ANC. A president of the republic should always act in the best interests of South Africa.”

Presidency spokesman Bongani Majola said Zuma had spoken in his capacity as ANC president.


Zuma also came in for a lashing on social media, with some labelling the remark “deeply tragic”.

The EFF said on Sunday: “The very statement by Zuma is further proof of the ideological limitations of ANC and speak volumes of his autocratic ambitions. The idea that ANC is above or comes first before South Africa is testimony that we are heading for dictatorship and the death of multiparty democracy, because it means they are prepared to become a one-party state.”

However, in a Facebook post, columnist Eusebius McKaiser appeared surprised by the outrage, saying he was “sincerely” not upset or even “repulsed as many seem to (be) by the remark”.

Meanwhile, the ANC says its leaders are free to criticise former leaders such as Kgalema Motlanthe and Frank Chikane, despite a magnanimous statement in response to criticism from former deputy president Motlanthe.

In an interview with Business Day, published last week, Motlanthe said the tripartite alliance of the ANC, SACP and Cosatu was dead, and those who didn’t believe it were delusional.

Zuma, speaking at the ANC’s KZN conference, was critical of his former deputy and Chikane, although he didn’t mention either by name. In comments which veered from his prepared speech, Zuma said his critics were “politically bankrupt”.

Zuma said: “I heard something in the newspaper where one comrade, who has been respected for a long time, (is) saying the alliance is dead. They are sitting at home… lonely. They left the ANC on their own, they were not chased out”.


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