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Denis Goldberg: ANC should 'clean its house'

As the fallout continues after South Africa’s Constitutional Court ordered President Zuma to refund money used to upgrade his Nkandla residence, former ANC spokesperson Denis Goldberg says it’s time Zuma steps down.

DW: What do you think would be the best thing to do for the ANC after the ruling by the Constitutional Court?

Denis Goldberg: Before the Constitutional Court ruling, I called on President Zuma to step down in the interests of the African National Congress as the only possible leader of the transformation of our country. He has become a political lightning conductor for all the opposition. Therefore, it's time for this previously heroic leader to make another heroic decision and that is to step down in the interests of the ANC and the country. I am interested in political leadership and, personally, I am sad that it had to take a legal court, a judge, to tell us what was obvious. Political leadership requires that one serves the people and not oneself and I'm afraid the president and those around him, his cronies, have been serving themselves and not the country.

The ANC has so far been supporting the president, recently with the Guptagate scandal, they came out saying they are backing him, do you think they could change now and force him to resign?

It would be much better if he simply repeated what is being reported as an offer to resign. There are fears that this could cause such damage to the organization shortly before local government elections that it was turned down. But it is clear now that it would serve the purpose of the ANC to start cleaning the house.

If President Zuma resigns, who is better placed to take up his position?

I am not going to speculate about who (chuckles), there is enough jockeying for positions, they don't need me to add to it. There are a number of people who I believe are capable. They have held high office and they know what it's about. They know that the times are changing and they must clean up the situation. I would not be surprised if there is a call for the former president [Kgalema] Motlanthe to be the caretaker president again, with somebody as his deputy, to be ready to take over in two years time. But I am not sure that is necessary, there are a number of experienced people.

You know the ANC, you were there with former late President Nelson Mandela. What role do you now play in the current ANC leadership? Do you offer advisory services?

I have to tell you, one offers advice but sometimes it's like speaking to very deaf ears! There comes a moment, however, where the timing is just right, when there is a broad response to what a number of people are saying. I was recently in London with others being awarded the freedom of the city of London. I made some comments there, which were picked up in Britain by the BBC, picked up by South African journalists, replayed back home in South Africa and I suppose that helped others to speak out. I have been saying this for a long time in South Africa alongside many others. There comes a moment when the pressure mounts and the dam breaks and there has to be a resolution of the problem.

You know politics, it happens in Germany, it happens all over Europe. Angela Merkel has taken a very fine stand on asylum seekers and refugees and there was great welcome for it, then slowly an opposition builds. I wish it hadn't been so because I admire the stand she took. But this is the way politics goes and here in South Africa, there is a perception that the need for change is essential and so it's going to happen.

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Reactions on social media after Zuma ordered to pay Nkandla cash

That it took a court case is in my opinion evidence of a sad lack of political leadership. The decision should have been taken years ago to do what the president has been ordered to do. Now the organization (ANC) has to decide whether to demand his resignation, whether to recall him, I don't know what form it will take but it is a serious crisis of leadership.

But you know that President Jacob Zuma is no stranger to political storms, he has weathered many others before, do you think this will be his last?

Yes, he thinks he is made of Teflon, but he isn't. I don't think the impeachment calls [ by the opposition Democratic Alliance] will succeed because the ANC has the majority and the ANC members will vote as ordered to vote as it happens in political parties in parliament. But I think there is a time when the ANC leadership needs to avoid the impeachment by asking politely for the president to stand down in the electoral interests of the African National Congress and that means in the interests of the country as a whole.

This would most likely give ammunition to the opposition as South Africa approaches the local government elections, wouldn't it?

This is why the opposition is making such a great meal out of it. They really want to get to the ANC in election time while it is recovering from the scandal. The ANC in my opinion needs to avoid the scandal by taking corrective action.

Denis Goldberg is a veteran South African anti-apartheid activist and former leading member of the ANC. He was the only white man to be convicted alongside Nelson Mandela.

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