South Africa

Nkandla says no to Zuma, or not

By Greg Nicolson 7 December 2012

The ANC lost a by-election in President Zuma’s infamous hometown Nkandla on Wednesday. Despite extensive developments in the area and Zuma’s conservative Zulu image, it might seem his hometown is as blasé about the president as much of the rest of the country. There is, however, more to it. By GREG NICOLSON.

When the Democratic Alliance embarked on its ill-fated visit to Nkandla and was stopped by police and ANC supporters, the provincial ANC said local members had come out in support of their president. Despite reports that supporters were bussed in, it makes sense that Zuma has widespread support in KwaZulu-Natal: the province will essentially secure his re-election as the ANC president; money has been thrown at building a new town, “Zumaville”, as well as new roads. Tribalism and patronage, that’s how many people think Zuma is securing another term as ANC president.

So why, when Nkandla voters had the chance to support his party, did they instead replace the ANC with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in Wednesday’s by-election? In coalition with the National Freedom Party, the ANC ruled the municipality after the 2011 local elections. Wednesday’s by-election in ward 4 has shifted control to the IFP, which took almost 55% of votes. Did Zuma’s key constituents reject his leadership while he has been promising what local voters like best – development and jobs?

Not quite. “That would be reading too much into it,” said Sipho Khumalo, a veteran journalist in KZN. He explained that after the ANC took the ward in 2011 it was beset by problems, as most coalition leaderships are. While Zuma lives outside the town of Nkandla and is distant from locals, residents face more immediate issues with leadership.

The former ANC councillor and speaker of the Nkandla municipality, Bongumenzi Ngcobo, died amid controversy. Before spending four weeks on life support in hospital and then passing away, he reported a stomach ache to his wife. After his death, rumours arose that he had been poisoned. Given the spate of political murders in KZN, the story isn’t as wild as it sounds. While Ngcobo was in hospital, IFP and NFP councillors cast a motion of no confidence in the local ANC mayor (showing NFP had strayed from the ANC alliance) and wanted to support the NFP candidate. On election day, the sentiment had already turned from the ANC, whose campaign and candidate didn’t match that of the IFP.

“The people of Nkandla can obviously tell the difference between ‘community’ development and service delivery for all, as opposed to ‘individual’ development and self-service,” IFP provincial chair Blessed Gwala said on Thursday, in a dig at the reported R238-million upgrade to Zuma’s home. “We thank the people of Nkandla and we look forward to the broader consequences of this result.”

Gwala’s statement was brimming with pride, but since the heyday of the IFP, it has been the ANC that has actually made gains in the area. It’s increased its municipal vote from under 10% in 2000 to around 50% in both the 2011 municipal elections and the by-elections. The area is not a Jacob Zuma stronghold, nor a natural home of the ANC. But as the IFP continues to decline in relevance and is beset by battles with the NFP after last year’s split, voters tried the ANC for a change. 

They may have switched back to what they are used to, but with the IFP’s steady descent into the political wilderness, the ruling party is still better off in the area than they were a decade ago. Some of the ANC’s rise may be attributed to having Zuma as a homeboy. Some of it may have to do with the area being identified as a key developmental project, but really it comes back to the difficulties faced by the IFP.

Reporters suggest that Nkandla (the homestead, or, Mac, the President’s private residence) has not been as big as an issue as it has been for the rest of the country. The question may be: will money continue to be pumped into the region as control shifts to the IFP? But the system of inclusion and exclusion, sweetened deals and preference for the president will continue regardless of who runs the town.

So it’s back to normal for Nkandla, and the president won’t mind too much. DM

Photo of Zuma’s Nkandla compound by Reuters.

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