Testing time for ANC ahead of meeting

When the ANC presents its traditional "January 8" statement on its 96th birthday at a gathering in Pretoria next week, it will have to contend with the new charges its newly elected president Jacob Zuma faces - and reported threats against the authority of his predecessor President Thabo Mbeki.

When the ANC presents its traditional "January 8" statement on its 96th birthday at a gathering in Pretoria next week, it will have to contend with the new charges its newly elected president Jacob Zuma faces - and reported threats against the authority of his predecessor President Thabo Mbeki.

On December 28, an indictment to stand trial on charges of racketeering, money laundering and fraud was served on Zuma in a move interpreted by some as political action orchestrated by Mbeki, who he succeeded as party president at the party's Polokwane conference.

Zuma's new trial is set to begin in the Pietermaritzburg high court on August 14. His lawyer, Michael Hulley, has questioned the timing of the indictment.

"The timing of the service of the indictment is calculated to quickly redress the popular support and call to leadership of the ANC which Mr Zuma's election so obviously demonstrates. This lends credence to the long held view that the Scorpions are influenced and their prosecution informed by political considerations," Hulley said.

Zuma's allies - Cosatu, the SACP and the ANCYL - have reiterated their support for him, saying the charges are "trumped up".

Youth league president Fikile Mbalula accused Mbeki of being "behind the scenes" in the National Prosecuting Authority's move. Cosatu said the charges had the "hallmarks of a vendetta" and the SACP said it was convinced Zuma would never have a fair trial.

The ANC has consistently said it would "cross that bridge" when Zuma was charged again and Zuma would not comment.

Head of the party's presidency Smuts Ngonyama said the party's top officials would meet "soon" to discuss the latest twist.

On January 7, the party is expected to hold its first national executive committee (NEC) meeting of the year and reports have suggested a showdown between Zuma's supporters and Mbeki.

Zuma said there would be no friction between himself, as head of the ruling party, and Mbeki, as the head of state, but NEC member Billy Masetlha, who was fired from his post as director-general of intelligence by Mbeki, was reported as saying that if the government denied the party, they would "punish them".

The "January 8" rally will be held at Super Stadium in Atteridgeville on January 12.

The statement usually sets the tasks for the party for the year ahead and, during apartheid, was used to give instructions to supporters.

In 1986, the year a state of emergency was declared, the statement read: "The charge we give to Umkhonto we Sizwe and to the masses of our people is attack, advance, give the enemy no quarter - an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth! Once more, we call on our white compatriots, and especially the youth, to break ranks with the apartheid system, to refuse to serve in its armed forces.

"We call on them to win their place in the future democratic South Africa by joining the struggle to turn that future into reality."

At the beginning of 2007, the NEC noted that it would be a year for a critical assessment of both the movement and its programme, with a focus on "changing the lives of the people".

However, in 2007 the party appeared to be strongly divided over whether Zuma should become president, or whether Mbeki should stay on for another term.

During his report at the Polokwane conference, Mbeki said the situation relating to Zuma was unprecedented and had never happened in the movement before - and that they had no previous experience to know how to deal with it.

Initial charges against Zuma were thrown out of court without a hearing.

They centre on his relationship with businessman Schabir Shaik, who was found guilty in 2005 of soliciting an arms company bribe for Zuma and jailed for 15 years.

Mbeki fired Zuma as the country's deputy president soon thereafter. - Sapa

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