South Africa


How the early 2000s KZN ANC recruitment drive and 2020s truck torchers helped ignite Zuma-aligned looting

Some were ANC members, and some were just looking to cause mayhem. None was answerable to the national ANC leadership. Let the fire begin.

The year is 2009 and the ANC is still reeling from a bruising 2007 Polokwane national conference where the party emerged more divided than it ever had been.

Not only did the party’s two senior leaders — in Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma — battle it out for the top job, but the Polokwane outcome led to a breakaway which saw a swathe of senior leaders leave the party to form the Congress of the People (Cope).

Elsewhere in the country, while accepting Zuma’s presidency, ANC structures were worried about the party’s electoral prospects. After all, Zuma was, and remains, a polarising figure — loved and loathed in equal measure.

All but one province was as concerned. For the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma was their trump card.

A resident flees from police after sporadic looting at Letshoho Mall in Katlehong this week. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

They were banking on “the Zuma effect”, as then-ANC provincial secretary Senzo Mchunu put it, to finally dislodge the IFP from the provincial government, once and for all. After all, Zuma was a Zulu from Nkandla. ANC leaders had reasoned that this would be ammunition in their electoral arsenal — to convince the province’s rural poor who were sceptical of the ANC.

Having narrowly pipped the IFP by a few percentage points to garner 46% of the provincial vote in 2004, it was enough for the ANC to form a coalition government under premier Sbu Ndebele. The latter appointed some IFP leaders into his government, although he was to fire them later. But that is a story for another day.

However in 2009, largely owing to the Zuma effect, the ANC won 62.9% of the votes in KwaZulu-Natal, to add 13 to its tally of provincial seats. Conversely, the ANC lost votes in all other provinces and also dropped a few percentage points from the all-time high of 69% that Mbeki achieved in 2004.

2009 election is one the IFP would like to forget. It was routed at the polls, losing 12 seats in the process. 

Burnt trucks on 10 July 2021 near Mooi River, KZN. Protests continue to rock the province. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

The IFP admitted that Zuma’s Zuluness had played a part in its poor electoral showing.

Party founder Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi told City Press in 2019 that members who deserted the party for the ANC did so on ethnic grounds.

“Those who (left the IFP) were completely basing that on ethnicity, saying: ‘Maybe it is the turn of the Zulus to have a head of state.’ Some people even in the IFP were talking about this. There was a false (belief) that a ‘Xhosa nostra’ was dominating the government,” Buthelezi was quoted as saying.

Fast forward to 2021 and it is exactly the “Zuma effect” that has come back to haunt the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal particularly.

This explains why premier and ANC provincial chairman Sihle Zikalala seems impotent and unable to express any view that may pit him against some of Zuma’s supporters. Zikalala is also faced with his own political uncertainties as the term of the provincial executive committee (PEC) that he leads has ended. In seeking re-election, he must be careful not to upset any constituency. This is why Zikalala told this reporter on Thursday last week that a presidential pardon for Zuma — who is serving a 15-month jail term for contempt of court — was desirable. He is placing the political hot potato firmly on the palm of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Enter Ngizwe Mchunu

Among those who have been driving the #FreeJacobZuma campaign is erstwhile Ukhozi FM DJ Ngizwe Mchunu, who has been a regular feature at Zuma’s Nkandla home over the past few weeks. He was also at Nkandla on the evening of Wednesday, 7 July 2021, as the media camped outside the former president’s homestead counting down the time to his incarceration.

Residents leave with their spoils after sporadic looting at Letshoho Mall in Katlehong this week. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

He also flanked Zuma as the former president met his supporters a few days earlier, on Sunday, 4 July.  It was also no coincidence that Mchunu was to resurface in Johannesburg a week later to “address the nation” at KwaMaiMai  — a traditional medicine market and hostel inhabited by people of KwaZulu-Natal origin. He gave President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo three days to release Zuma. Before long, the violence which began in some parts of KwaZulu-Natal had spread to Gauteng.

The hostel dwellers who previously pledged their support to the IFP vowed to defend Msholozi (Zuma’s clan name). 

Mchunu was also in Nkandla when the now deposed leader of Zulu regiments Zihogo “Mgilija” Nhleko brought amabutho to Zuma’s homestead to pledge their support. Nhleko was roundly criticised by Buthelezi for disrespecting the Zulu royal family for involving the supposedly apolitical regiments in the ANC’s factional battles. But the tension between the two men also stems from their political differences, with Nhleko having defected from the IFP to the breakaway National Freedom Party formed in 2011 by Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi.

Asked about the presence of Zulu amabutho at Nkandla, Zuma gave one of his usual evasive replies. “As a Zulu, I’m part of amabutho, so they came to see their colleague,” said Zuma.

So, not only did the ANC grow its electoral support in 2009 in KwaZulu-Natal, but it also ended up with former IFP members who were not steeped in ANC culture. It is these kinds of “new members” that the party cannot control. They descended on Nkandla in their hundreds.

Where it all started

As Ramaphosa addressed the nation on Monday night, for the second time in two days, announcing his decision to deploy the army to restore order, South Africans were still trying to make sense of the developments of the past few days. How did we get to 200 malls and shopping centres being looted and vandalised within a space of four days?

Sources within the SA Police Service and some of the organisers told of a meeting on Tuesday evening, 6 July 2021, after the arguments in the Pietermaritzburg High Court where Zuma’s lawyers had sought to stay his arrest.

At least two senior members of the #FreeJacobZuma campaign said they had been incorrectly advised by some members of the legal team that the reservation of the judgment by Judge Jerome Mnguni meant that Zuma would not be arrested until Friday, 9 July — when Mnguni gave his ruling.

Unknown to them was that the reservation of the judgment had no bearing on the original order of the Constitutional Court for Zuma to be arrested on Wednesday, 7 July.

Whether this was deliberate or a case of poor understanding of the law on the part of the lawyers is not known. But the result was that the former president only had an inebriated Edward Zuma as his “defender” when the phalanx of police cars approached his Nkandla residence on Wednesday night before his arrest.

Dozens of trucks scattered all over around Mooi river toll plaza in KZN midlands after they were torched by an unruly group of protesters who went on a rampage torching trucks in the area as they trying to force the South African government to release imprisoned former president Jacob Zuma.Photo: Supplied

Based on the wrong advice, the organisers of the Nkandla rally of Sunday, 4 July had planned for a shutdown for Friday, 9 July. With Zuma now in jail, they merely put their plans into place — leading to sporadic skirmishes between the police and the “invisible” rioters on the day. But while the police had their hands full putting out the small fires, they took their eyes off the dangerous threat that posed a risk to the country’s security and economy. This is the unholy alliance between some people who identify themselves as MKMVA in KwaZulu-Natal and disgruntled former truck drivers who accuse foreign nationals of taking their jobs.

This is the grouping that was accused of being behind attacks on trucks on the N3, earlier this year. By Saturday morning, 23 trucks had burnt in Mooi River and the police were in no position to head off the situation. A senior source in the police department admitted failure to foresee the Mooi River incident may have fuelled the flames of unrest — that has since morphed into mass looting and an expression of desperation by unemployed South Africans.

While Ramaphosa announced the arrests of 489 suspects for the looting and violence that engulfed the two provinces, the masterminds behind the riots are still free. They lit the match and watched the inferno grow out of anyone’s control. DM


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All Comments 21

  • Typing this reply from a peaceful and secure position, some 1500km west of KZN I am grateful that my family and I have not yet experienced the fear that the uninvolved and law-abiding people of KZN are living with. I listened to an authentic voice note from a resident of KZN who was asked for private ammunition by the police, as he described the mayhem, the successful defence of the Amanzimtoti SAPS station by private citizens and as he expressed his fears that the violence would spill over into residential areas. The losses for South Africa are staggering, and this is not over yet. Who, in the anti-gun lobby this morning will take a position against the lawful private possession of firearms for self-defence? Certainly not the SAPS in KZN – at least those members who are on the ground in the thick of it, and who were assisted and protected by lawfully armed private citizens. The silence of the anti-gun lobby in South Africa since last week is deafening.

    • Do we really want a whole bunch of gun toting, right wing extremist vigilantes thrown into this mix? If there is any recipe for civil war, this is it.
      I have been worried by the rampant looting, but I have also been worried by visuals of heavily armed vigilante groups, blocking roads and shooting at crowds.
      We don’t need looting. We don’t need gun lobbies. We need clam all round.

      • In your dreams Mr Krige! That’s what we need but not what we are going to get until there is a proper man ( or woman) in the top police job, whether he ( or she) is black,white,pink or yellow. Until experienced, educated, un politicized people are in our key positions in this country, nothing will change. Racist BEE policies have to go. The experiment has been ongoing for the last 25yrs and appears to have failed.

  • Hunt down the masterminds who have only [power and greed as their objectives.
    The poor have just got poorer – cry the beloved country!!

  • At the center of this uprising are those politicians and ANC members who are responsible for 9 lost years and billions of rands looted through state capture. Will the ANC deal honestly and transparently with these members?

  • Do we have SAPS intelligence? Clearly not. Do we have a police minister? Yes… a Zulu. A Commissioner? I think so … but didn’t he refuse to obey a Concourt instruction to arrest Zuma? What we have here is a massive police failure. Not holding my breath, but hoping that Ramaphosa fires the whole lot.

    • What is happening in our country is so unfortunate, however this just highlight the serious shortcomings in the police force, as Covid 19 did to our health system. No fear for the police, as huge pockets are corrupt, and dealing and stealing from the poor, this water the authority down, and they become the laughing stock. Cele is quick to warn, and to make fun fare tv announcements how tough they are against criminality, however you see none of that where it matters. There forty is soft targets, and they excel, (Bribes.) shame! Time for a clean up amongst the top brass?

  • The ANC/government are in a pickle. They are damned if they act swiftly and harshly against the violence, as this will anger more people, forcing more violence. If they do nothing, or act gently (as they are doing now), the instigators will be more empowered and emboldened. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

  • So what does the Zulu monarchy say. The Zulu army mutinied to be at Nkandla. I hear from a close source that in Polokwane that even Taxi drivers got together and said this is a Zulu fight not ours, do not loot. So no looting.

  • The Smuts government interned supporters of the Ossewabrandwag. Put the current #freeJZnow ringleaders into “protective custody” to protect the country from their rabble rousing. Julius included, for encouraging his supporters to protest the use of the military to restore law and order.

  • Would South Africa have suffered under these riots and lawlessness had Cele showed balls and arrested all the unmasked Zuma supporters for breaking the law at Nkandla, before Zuma was incarcerated? So, perhaps Cele et al could be the masterminds behind the riots and lawlessness?

  • This criminal activity was clearly well planned and resourced and it wouldn’t surprise me if Niehuis, Manyi, the Zuma family and others were involved. The ineptitude of the armed forces, the police and crime intelligence were evident for all to see on TV this morning. This lot would have trouble catching a cold let alone tracking down these gangsters. I am afraid to say that I don’t see SA recovering from this any time soon if ever. Would you rebuild your Spar franchise again and restock even if you had the money which many franchisees don’t? Especially the lady from crime intelligence saying this is not an emergency!!

  • Simplified, South Africa as a whole has only two problems ….. Accountability and Discipline. Neither can happen without some kind of ‘Policing’ …… policing can only work if there is FEAR of the consequences by the people in the spotlight, either from a direct physical consequence or a moral consequence.
    This applies to everyone, everywhere.
    In South Africa today this is not working due to a complete lack of action of any consequence by the authorities.
    Urgently we need very tough and meaningful reaction from the Security Forces to be able to dissipate mobs developing and overwhelming our very thin blue line.
    This cannot be done with talking, arrests, rubber bullets and stun grenades with so few Policemen on the ground.
    We need the population to be informed immediately of the immediate action that will occur if they do certain things, like looting, damaging any property of the State or others and disobeying the legitimate orders of the Police.
    Unfortunately, due to such limited manpower, this cannot happen using the current methods …… we need to decide very quickly what should be done…….sooner rather than later in order to end this for the good of all.

  • Has there been such evidence which indicates the mob-led ANC is plainly incapable! Things must change. NOW!
    I recall national service in Bloemfontein mid-1960’s. We trained to handle mobs and mob-violence in the event of being called in to assist police. Phalanx-driven U-shaped line-up, clearing streets, step by step. I recall the OFS U students being called out to “take on the Engelse Durban Beach Boitjies in our unit, in a practice drill. The tone became serious, but the drill remains in me. Our SAP Services indicate not an iota of any such practices and training as having taken place.
    Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells of SAFETY as the first need in life; thereafter food. TV scenes of a Mercedes panel van, towing a trailer loaded with 4 fridges, still in boxes, abound, yet a maximum of 5 police – which includes the driver – with clearly no trained skills, left vulnerable to a totally indifferent cohort of thieves.
    I guess the Zondo Comm has revealed what these thieves might have suspected, but about which they never really knew the details, and this moment of MK madness in the nature of their so-called protests offers/offered them, thousands upon thousands, the opportunity to really take part in their ‘wealth aggrandisement’, as displayed by their leaders for so long.
    I find no English sufficient to describe these last 3 days! The misled, mob-led ANC, plus its faux-SACP connections, added to which count the hate-filled EFF, are as bubonic tumours upon this land!

  • While the constitutional court ruling re Jacob Zuma can be seen as a triumph of the rule of law in the abstract,the events of the last few days show an urgent need for a corresponding justice on the ground. Here, unfortunately, we have seen an almost total failure- inadequate and poorly trained police, weak and futile statements and actions from the ANC , and the terrible consequences of an unchecked rampage of looting. The final damage will be excruciating.

  • This excellent analysis fails to ask the question about the SAPS role and allegiances in that province. Surely it is not neutral ? Even that of SANDF members in that area especially needs unpacking, like that of the numerous members of the police and military in the the US and their direct involvement in the efforts to ‘overturn’ the recent election results on Jan 6th … and now re-branded by most Republicans as a ‘picnic of patriots’ ! The parallels are remarkable … nay maybe horrifying may be more apt.

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