Former South African president Nelson Mandela made a rare appearance at a political rally in support of his African National Congress (ANC) party yesterday amid internal divisions over its leader and likely presidential candidate, Jacob Zuma.
Mandela joined Zuma on the platform as the ANC leader campaigned in the Eastern Cape, a traditional party stronghold where it now faces a significant challenge from a breakaway faction in the race for the 22 April ballot.
An ANC spokeswoman, Lindiwe Zulu, said thousands attended the rally, but Mandela did not speak. His grandson, Mandla, addressed the crowd instead, saying that he and his grandfather were “there to confirm their ANC membership and support for the party.”
“He said they were here to dispel any notion by anybody, anywhere who thinks that anybody within the Mandela family, particularly Nelson, were not supporting the ANC,” Zulu said.
Mandela’s endorsement was important as the ANC grapples with a growing perception that the party’s primary preoccupation these days is to prevent Zuma going on trial for corruption. Zuma is likely to be formally nominated as his party’s election candidate even though charges are hanging over him, reinforcing a widening view that the ANC is soft on corruption and that some of its leaders have enriched themselves while in power.
Mandela’s presence was also significant because his successor as South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, has so far refused to publicly endorse the ANC in the election after he was forced from office last year by Zuma’s supporters in the party.
Some ANC allies of Mbeki went on to form a breakaway party, the Congress of the People.
It poses little threat to Zuma’s challenge for the presidency but could significantly eat into the size of the ruling party’s majority in parliament and has attracted the support of a handful of prominent former ANC officials. The perception that some ANC politicians are living extravagant lifestyles has been reinforced in recent days by revelations about the party’s senior spokesman, Carl Niehaus.
He was forced to resign after admitting forging the signatures of other ANC officials in an attempt to borrow large amounts of money and lying to people who loaned him substantial amounts, which he used on his mansion, luxury cars and skiing holidays.
Media reports said Niehaus was forced to resign from a job in Mbeki’s presidency after charging holidays to government expense accounts, but the ANC apparently did not initiate a criminal investigation.
He was previously forced to resign as chief executive from an evangelical church because he failed to repay a loan of about £50,000 (US$72,000), and he was asked to quit a top job with the audit firm Deloitte and Touche over implausible expense claims and his financial problems.