Supporters of former president Jacob Zuma have vowed to support him to until his last day in court.
A number of them gathered at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday to welcome him back from a trip to Cuba where he received treatment for an undisclosed medical condition.
His supporters, called the “RET Forces”, believed the former president was being “persecuted” and were angered by the issuing of a warrant of arrest for him by the high court in Pietermaritzburg.
They included Supra Mahumapelo, Free State premier Sam Mashinini, former minister Des Van Rooyen, Kebby Maphatsoe and a number of MPs.
They sang struggle and pro-Zuma songs, carrying posters with messages of support.
Mahumapelo said they wanted to send a message that they would not “disown one of our own”. He said they would support Zuma until the end. “The warrant of arrest has made many of us and the members angry because we think it’s mischievous. We think its objective is to stir the emotions in the country deliberately.”
Mashinini also expressed his support for Zuma saying he was subjected to a “public court”. He also voiced support for ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Mish Mdlalose, an ANC member from Gauteng, said Zuma was being unfairly treated and his case was dragging unnecessarily. “All us feel very strong [that the case] is meant to destroy his character and his contribution to the struggle,” said Mdlalose.
ANC MP Mervyn Dirks decided to support Zuma because he was unfairly treated: “For 18 years, can you say that this man is fairly treated? He has been hunted for 18 years. It’s no longer a prosecution, it’s persecution,” said Dirks.
Zuma failed to appear in the Pietermaritzburg high court for a sitting on his corruption trial earlier in February, citing a medical condition for his absence.
Judge Dhaya Pillay issued a warrant of arrest for the former president, saying the sick note submitted by his legal team was inadmissible due to inconsistencies. The warrant stayed until May 6, 2020, when Zuma’s criminal matter is expected back in court.
Carl Niehaus tweeted a statement on behalf of a group called the Gauteng Radical Economic Transformation (RET) President Zuma Support Group, urging “thousands” of supporters to welcome Zuma at the airport.
“Let us gather in our thousands to welcome Msholozi back home … Let’s give Msholozi a resounding welcome, and denounce the vindictive warrant of arrest.”
“Reflecting our support for President Zuma, and outrage at the vindictive political persecution he is subjected to, many more calls will follow for thousands of supporters to join us in warmly welcoming Msholozi back home,” he said in a second statement.