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Some South Africans Question Timing of New Zuma Indictment

In South Africa, the chief prosecutor has reportedly denied that his decision to bring new charges against African National Congress (ANC) President Jacob Zuma was influenced by President Thabo Mbeki. The National Prosecuting Authority over the weekend charged Zuma with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Zuma supporters have described the charges as politically motivated.

Professor Sheila Meintjes is head of the department of political studies at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. From Johannesburg, she told VOA that while many are not surprised by the new indictment against Jacob Zuma, they are questioning the timing of it.

“I think the indictment was hanging over him anyway, and it was a question of timing because the National Prosecuting Authority said that they would be indicting him. But it just wasn’t clear when. And I think the main question is why did they indict him at this point between Christmas and New Year before he has his first meeting with the National Executive Committee of the ANC I think on the 7th of January. So the timing has caused a bit of a storm in this country where people are asking well is this a political ploy to undermine him before he even asserts his authority in the new National Executive Committee,” she said.

Contrary to some Zuma supporters who said that perhaps President Thabo Mbeki might behind the new indictment, Meintjes said the new charges against Zuma had long been expected.

“A lot of people are saying that. It’s being going on for a number of years, in fact since 1999. So it’s being a long time in process,“ Meintjes said.

Zuma had said he would only step down as ANC president after a judge has found him guilty. Meintjes said Zuma might be expressing a popular view in South Africa, especially among ANC members.

“In fact ANC members are saying he should remain as the president of the ANC. Of course it will make it a lot more difficult for him because he will be focusing his attention on his court case. So it’s going to be very awkward. And quite clearly his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, is going to be taking a lot more authority than he may have in the normal course of events. But there is no suggestion that he will step down,” she said.

Meintjes said she foresees a split in the ANC not because of the differences between Mbeki and Zuma but because of what she called conflicting interests imbedded in the ANC.

“I’ve been arguing for a long time that the only possibility for any kind of normalization of politics could take place is if the broad church called the ANC splits because it imbeds within it a whole range of quite conflicting interests. The one of capital and the other is big business and capital and middle class interest on the one hand, and then the other the much more of sort social democratic demand for social welfare policies coming from a much working class population. And I don’t think they are going to see the democratic alliance growing as a result of the differences imbedded within the ANC itself. I think the only possibility is going to be a split. But all the talk at the moment is about retaining the unity of the ANC itself,” Meintjes said.