UMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) spokesperson Carl Niehaus has rubbished claims that some of the ANC’s senior members who came out to support Jacob Zuma in court on Monday contravened the country’s Covid-19 regulations.
Niehaus, along with suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and the party’s NEC members Tony Yengeni and Bongani Bongo, travelled to KwaZulu-Natal to stand with the former president in his arms deal corruption case.
They addressed a crowd of supporters who had gathered outside the Pietermaritzburg high court to show support for Zuma.
There has been criticism from some South Africans that the crowd was not adhering to Covid-19 regulations, especially as the country is entering the third wave of the pandemic.
However, Niehaus dismissed the claims, telling The Citizen on Tuesday morning they tried to observe social distancing and mask-wearing.
He said they tried to ensure that no one was exposed to the virus, and that the gathering did not contribute to the steady rise in SA’s Covid-19 cases.
“As far as I know, all the leaders came in with masks, and there were a couple of times when we were posing for pictures that people asked some of us to remove the masks, because they wanted a picture where we are recognisable. We did so and immediately replaced the mask,” he said.
Niehaus said those who have criticised them should look at the video recordings of Monday’s mini-rally outside court, to see they had observed the government’s Covid regulations.
“I personally didn’t remove my mask when I was speaking, I had the mask on. So, I don’t think there was an intention in any way to contravene Covid-19 protocols at all.”
However, Niehaus admitted that there were some in the crowd who did not have their masks on.
“It is difficult to maintain social distancing in those environments, but we tried.”
“It’s a constant challenge how to maintain social distancing within even relatively small crowds. The crowd outside the court was not a huge crowd, and it was not because we couldn’t bring a larger crowd.
“We deliberately didn’t organise buses from other provinces in order to avoid having a large crowd.”
Niehaus also dismissed claims that the ANC members were behaving as though they were above the law.
“We didn’t behave as if we are above the law. We must be careful not to turn this into something factional, it is definitely not,” he said.
Zuma and his co-accused, French arms dealer Thales, are on trial over the controversial multibillion-rand arms deal struck back when Zuma was KZN’s MEC for Economic Development, in the 1990s.
He is facing 16 counts – including fraud‚ corruption, money laundering and racketeering – while Thales is facing four counts.
The case was postponed to 26 May 2021.