ANC hopes to capitalise on Zuma’s KZN popularity to turn back the political tide and win over voters

ANC hopes to capitalise on Zuma’s KZN popularity to turn back the political tide and win over voters
Front-page design: Bogosi Motau. | Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Flag. (

The ANC’s declining support has alarmed its provincial leaders to such an extent that they have called in the party’s disgraced former president, who remains popular despite the weight of all his court battles and the corruption allegations against him.

The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) hopes to boost its chances of winning elections in the province by capitalising on the popularity of former president Jacob Zuma and other party elders.

This reliance on the man who epitomises the party’s descent into State Capture, patronage and corruption flies in the face of its efforts to clean up its act under President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The main reason the provincial leadership of the ANC wants Zuma as a frontman in their 2024 election campaign is because they believe no one has the political and popular clout in KZN that Zuma maintains.

Defending this position, provincial ANC spokesperson Mafika Mndebele said those who criticise Zuma do not have the same capability to campaign successfully for the ANC in KZN.

“President Zuma is the most popular figure in our province – can those people fill a hall then criticise him?” said Mndebele.

The wily 81-year-old was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court after failing to appear before the Zondo Commission. He is also facing multiple corruption charges related to the 1990s Arms Deal.

He appeared in the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in Pietermaritzburg on 26 October in yet another bid to remove Billy Downer, the lead prosecutor in this case. Various courts, including the Constitutional Court, have dismissed his previous attempts to do so.

Despite his Stalingrad tactics to avoid his day in court, Zuma’s popularity among masses of followers continues unabated.

This was evident in the riots, public violence, looting and rampant destruction of lives, livelihoods and property after his imprisonment in 2021. Long before that, in 2006, he also received immense popular support despite being charged with rape – a charge of which he was acquitted.

Zuma has long mastered the art of playing the victim. It arguably fuelled his victory over Thabo Mbeki at the ANC conference in Polokwane in 2007. Before that, in 2005, Mbeki had fired Zuma as deputy president of South Africa in the wake of Schabir Shaik, his financial adviser and benefactor, being found guilty of corruption and fraud.

Despite the weight of all his court battles and the corruption allegations against him, Zuma’s clout in KZN is undeniable. Before he became the president of South Africa in 2009, the ANC had not managed to get an outright majority vote in the province. It lost to the IFP in the first democratic elections in 1994, fared somewhat better in 1999, getting 39% to the IFP’s almost 40%, and secured almost 47% of the vote in 2004, when the IFP had fallen to just under 37%.

With Zuma at the helm of the ANC in 2009, the party got an overwhelming 62.95% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal. It continued to see growth in his second term as South African and ANC president, when its support rose to 64.52% in 2014.

However, in the general election in 2019, the ANC started to decline in the province and only managed to secure 54.22% of the vote.

The voting results at the national level paint a different picture. Under Nelson Mandela’s leadership, the ANC had 62.65% of the vote in 1994, and it peaked at 69.69% in 2004 under Mbeki. Zuma’s presidency saw the party fall back to 62.15% by 2014.

Its lowest support, however, came under Ramaphosa in 2019, when it only managed 57.50%. Many argue that this was the result of 10 years of State Capture and rampant corruption while Zuma was at the helm.

Former president Thabo Mbeki at the Nasrec Expo Centre for the ANC Elective Conference on 16 December 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The ANC’s renewal project

The ANC under Ramaphosa has recently taken a hard line against corruption and disciplined members found to be complicit in wrongdoing.

For example, secretary-general Ace Magashule was expelled from the party for, among other reasons, having been criminally charged. Members with criminal records have also been prevented from running for positions in the ANC.

Though the ANC Veterans’ League is leading this “renewal” project, the party has also assembled a commission to deal with it. Ramaphosa is the chairperson and secretary-general; Fikile Mbalula is the coordinator.

But on 12 October, at a memorial service for struggle stalwart Aziz Pahad, Mbeki raised concerns about the party’s failure to arrest its decline and lashed out at the slow pace of renewal.

KZN ANC spokesperson Mafika Mndebele. (Photo: Phumlani Thabethe)

What the polls say about KZN

According to Mndebele, the latest internal ANC polling in KwaZulu-Natal says that the party’s support in the province stands at about 52%.

This is vastly different from a poll by The Brenthurst Foundation that was released last week. It put the ANC at 32%, followed by the IFP at 27%, the DA at 19% and the EFF at 15%.

Mndebele shrugged off the idea that the IFP could pose a threat to the ANC and emerge as the largest party in the province.

“We have been answering this question and the media keeps repeating it with a hope of a different outcome. The IFP is busing people [to by-elections], buying ANC councillors and, at times, working jointly with the DA for victory at ward level. But this is not possible in general elections. We are winning elections in KwaZulu-Natal,” he claimed.

IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa views the ANC’s confidence in an outright electoral victory as the stuff of dreams. “Without evidence, it remains just that – a spurious claim.

“The IFP would never be so irresponsible as to accuse another party of rigging elections without proof. This is a very serious allegation which undermines the integrity of the IEC [Electoral Commission of SA] and the electoral process.

“As the IFP, we believe it is very dangerous to make such claims,  particularly those relating to election processes, without evidence to back it up.

“Further, by implication, the ANC is insinuating that the IEC is turning a blind eye to illegal activities.

“As we approach elections, we call on all media houses to report without fear or favour, remaining cognisant of their responsibility to provide news that is accurate and based on facts, not on the unsubstantiated claims of a party that is very clearly on the decline,” he said.

The DA’s second deputy federal chairperson, Solly Malatsi, also believes the claims by the ANC are inaccurate.

“This idea that we can only win wards against the ANC by ‘combining’ voters is nonsense because there are some wards that the IFP has won recently, such as in uMhlathuze, where there were no DA votes. Equally, there are wards that the DA has won against the ANC where there were no IFP votes.

“So, this claim is outrageous. It seems like the ANC just can’t take by-election losses graciously. It is clearly intimidated by the impact of the ever-growing political cooperation between the DA and IFP in consolidating the opposition vote in KZN,” he said.

Analyst Levy Ndou said that if there is any wrongdoing by political parties, the matter should be taken to the IEC.

“There is a lot of panic when the results of the by-elections are announced because they could appear as if they provide an indication on how political parties are going to perform in the 2024 elections.

“The claim by the ANC – it would be good if they are able to provide proof that indeed these parties have combined votes only to favour the IFP,” Ndou said.

Zweli Mkhize during a Memorial Lecture at Pietermaritzburg City Hall on 19 November 2022 in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

Premier Willies Mchunu during the announcement of a Cabinet reshuffle on 6 June 2016 in KwaZulu-Natal. (Photo: Gallo Images / The Times / Jackie Clausen)

Senzo Mchunu visits the Churchill Dam to access the water crisis on 5 July 2022 in Nelson Mandela Bay. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile)

Mike Mabuyakhulu during a media briefing after the party cancelled its KwaZulu-Natal provincial consultative conference on 9 June 2018 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Daily Sun / Jabulani Langa)

Zuma speaks

Zuma addressed sup­­­porters in the ANC’s General Gizenga Mpanza Region last weekend and committed himself to campaign for the party. He also encouraged people to vote for the ANC to “defeat the beneficiaries of apartheid who want to see indigenous people forever trapped in abject poverty”.

He went on to warn members against leaving the ANC to form small political parties, which he said were aiding those who want to see the collapse of the party.

“It is unwise not to vote for the ANC in next year’s general elections because you are aggrieved or because you have a problem with a certain leader. This will never change anything. Instead, such a decision will reverse the gains we have made over years of struggle for the betterment of the lives of indigenous people,” Zuma said.

In a statement issued by the KZN ANC, it said an announcement would be made regarding a “programme of action” that not only includes Zuma, but also senior party members S’bu Ndebele, Zweli Mkhize, Willies Mchunu, Sipho Gcabashe, Senzo Mchunu and Mike Mabuyakhulu.

Mkhize was recently embroiled in the Digital Vibes scandal, but was never charged. He has been fighting for a review of the Special Investigating Unit report on money allegedly being siphoned from the Department of Health for the benefit of his family and associates.

ANC decline in KZN

The possibility of the ANC in KZN dipping below 50% has arisen as the IFP continues to regain its support in the province.

The ANC provincial leadership in May cited the DA’s “moonshot pact” as the reason for its electoral decline in recent by-elections in a report that was presented to the party’s National Working Committee (NWC).

Between February 2022 and April 2023, the IFP won seven wards and the DA one from the ANC in the province.

The ANC’s provincial structure said the party’s decline from 2.5 million votes in the 2014 elections to 1.9 million in 2019 should largely be blamed on a lower voter turnout.

However, it did acknowledge the IFP’s growing support in the province, despite the death of the party’s founder, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, in September.

In the 2014 general election, the IFP registered its lowest support since South Africa became a democracy and was relegated to being the third-largest party in KZN.

However, it has made a strong comeback since the 2016 local government elections and, in the 2019 national election, it won back the status of being the official opposition in KZN. In the 2021 local elections, the IFP managed to maintain its upward trajectory by increasing its support.

In its report to the NWC, the KZN ANC leadership acknowledged “the challenges from other opposition parties”.

“The province has seen a shift to the EFF and IFP. Most of the voters where the ANC is losing power are in the former IFP voting districts. The ANC remains strong and maintains power in its strongholds.

“The eThekwini region showed the highest drop in voter turnout and ANC support, and subsequently contributed the largest to the drop in 2019,” the report said.

“The DA, Freedom Front Plus and the EFF showed positive growth in the province when comparing two general elections, 2014 and 2019. In the local government elections, the IFP showed a spike turn [sic] from negative growth to a high positive.”

Whether Jacob Zuma is the man to turn back the tide of the ANC’s slide in KZN remains to be seen. Analyst Sanusha Naidu is sceptical that much will come of the party’s renewal project as well as its efforts to appear unified, and doesn’t think Zuma will necessarily be able to turn around its fortunes in the province.

“This is kind of a reflection of where the ANC is nationally, regionally, provincially and at branch structure level.

“It seems they are trying to consolidate and trying to get back a sense of coherence, trying to shift away from the fragmentation they find themselves in internally, because it is really quite a disruptive party right now internally when you listen to the secretary-general, when you listen to the National Executive Committee. The internal implosion is evident because they are not speaking with one voice,” Naidu said.

“I think it is grasping at straws as they realise that their footprint in the province has been really in a precarious situation. It has been caught in internal power struggles.

“What they are hoping for is that bringing former president Zuma will give them a good chance. It demonstrates how fluid the political architecture and dynamics are. If it’s a good or bad idea? This is where it is for them. They may do well in certain parts of the province outside the metro.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Theart Korsten says:

    Sekwanele lomsangano!!!! We cannot let these ANC comrades carry on. 30 years and f***l is working anymore. We are falling apart at the seams. Please South African – we need a change.

  • ilike homophones says:

    i told you people,
    there is no way anc will loose this election.
    you are living in a dream world if you
    think they can be out voted.

  • ilike homophones says:

    i told you people,
    there is no way they will loose this election.
    you are living in a dream world if you
    think they can be out voted.

  • jacki watts says:

    Come on South Africans… Wake up. Does this not show us clearly what kant the ANC is on…

  • Craig de Villiers says:

    Absolutely morally and ethically bankrupt

  • Craig de Villiers says:

    Absolutely morally and ethically bankrupt – shameless

  • Jon Quirk says:

    So that we all can properly understand what both this article is saying, and thus by extension how it is on the ground in KZN, it is essential that we return to the old days of extreme state capture, cadre deployment and BEE, such that the elite cadres can again fill their boots. Is this not what this article is saying?

    That making sure that these corrupt, exploitative leeches are well-fed, is the only way to preserve the ANC in government in KZN? That we must both embrace and forgive evil, in order that the ANC in KZN will remain in power?

  • Jon Quirk says:

    So that we all can properly understand what both this article is saying, and thus by extension how it is on the ground in KZN, it is essential that we return to the old days of extreme state capture, cadre deployment and BEE, such that the elite cadres can again fill their boots. Is this not what this article is saying?

    That making sure that these corrupt, exploitative leeches are well-fed, is the only way to preserve the ANC in government in KZN? That we must both embrace and forgive evil, in order that the ANC in KZN will remain in power?

  • Fuad XXX says:

    Holy cows, absolutely bankrupt this cANCer, imagine they want another shot with Mr seventy-eleventy at the top! MIND-BLOWING

  • Johan Buys says:

    Pinning their hopes on the former prisoner says it all

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    Consistency is the hallmark of true leadership and that you will find it very hard to get in the ANC. As Lybon Mabasa at the funeral of Manfred Yende in 1983 said. ” Consistency is the hallmark of all true revolutionaries. A true revolutionary does not vacillate between half truths and half lies”. The ANC has a temerity to attack Malema and characterise him with all sorts of things and yet they place their hopes on people they have defined as attacking the Constitution and the judiciary. Zuma has become the epitome of being the opponent of the Constitution and attacks against the judiciary yet these liars, legal plumbers, journalists are saying nothing when the ANC says Zuma must lead the KZN ANC campaign. What surprises some of us is that we have never heard any word from Ismael Lagardien, Pierre de Vos and Stephen Grootes as Zuma held concerts outside the courts prior to Polokwane with Mantashe and Nzimande acting as the David Thekwane, the ANCWL as the Izintombi zoMgqashiyo as Zuma was belting songs like Mahlathini. The judiciary and the NPA were attacked with regularity and there was no word from Lagardien, de Vos and Grootes. Instead we had journalist like the late Karima being part of the entourage. Yet we see people changing like lizards. Thieves like Makhura whose looting is legendary in Gauteng have the temerity to point fingers. Covid exposed people like Makhura as unmitigated thieves. Let the corrupt and the anti judiciary campaign but do not attack Malema again.

  • Libby De Villiers says:

    If people still vote for the ANC, they must please just stop crying over the mess they’re living in. If Zuma is their man and the ANC their party, they must like what he and the party give them and live with it.
    We all have a responsibility to vote for the party we believe will do the right thing – for the country and thus for us personally. That is called democracy.
    If you choose to vote for a corrupt party that does not give you anything while living their best trashy lives on stolen money and running this country and people into the ground, then live with it, my friend.
    You live by Zuma, you suffer and die by Zuma.

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    Country burns while our conniving president enjoyed a no doubt free trip to France and a world cup match. This while South Africa slides into ever deeper corruption and mismanagement led by the great liberators known as the ANC. VIVA the comrades.
    The ANC is intent to use a thief and fraudster to help KZN in next years election. Shows the total lack of morality in these thugs. Obviously they, like many South Africans have little faith in their own spineless president.

  • Anil Maharaj says:

    The desperate ANC is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Zuma might win them some votes but they will lose many more.
    People remember too well the corruption and economic meltdown during his reign.

  • Consultgws says:

    In the USA, party loyalty is the norm. You are either a diehard Democrat or a Republican. Presiden Zuma is speaking wisdom on the need to vote ANC in 2024 regardless of the current intra party woes bedevilling it.

  • Barrie King says:

    After what the ANC has done to the country, it would be completely irrational for them to NOT promote Zuma for their election effort in KZN. He is, after all, the architect of their corruption, looting, embezzlement of public funds & destruction of our country. He and others like Arthur Fraser, Zweli Mkhize, Ace Magashule, & hundreds of others mentioned by Jacques Pauw in “The President’s Keepers” should all be charged with Treason & jailed accordingly, not roaming free living the good life at taxpayers’ expense. Madiba’s ideology was to uplift his people, their is only to uplift their own stolen wealth! Those who vote for him deserve to wallow in their 29 year old poverty & misery!

  • Colin Braude says:

    Telling that the ANC is resorting to JZ783 (assuming he can break away from his vexatious litigation).

    The ANC “recalled” Zuma without providing reasons, the epitome of non-accountability. The Zondo Commission revealed some of the venal corruption during his presidency as have several other reports, including by the media.

    As someone who is facing charges, serious charges for defence procurement tender fraud, Zuma would fall under the ANC’s own “stand aside” rule. Clearly, when their own procurement tender frauds are at risk, the comrades are happy to have him.

  • Mark K says:

    This is fantastic news. I run an education agency that helps young people apply for studies in Australia. If Zuma hits the campaign trail, I suspect we’ll see a massive uptick in enquiries from KZN.

  • Michael Thomlinson says:

    Is this all the ANC can scrape together in KZN? What a bunch of losers. They want to use an uneducated thief to front their election campaigns? Well good luck to them. It may work in the rural areas where traditional leaders (who are paid with tax payers money) will instruct their people which way to vote. But in urban areas, I think that a lot of people are simply tired of the way the ANC is running things into the ground and hopefuly they will vote as intelligent individuals, ie against the ANC.

  • Nick Griffon says:

    Go for it…. They will find that he is not as popular as they remember him to be 5 years ago.
    This is the last kick of a dead horse.

    They have nothing left. Nobody is buying the “it’s apartheid’s fault” BS anymore.
    Even the rural people are beginning to see how pathetic they are.

  • Andre Swart says:

    How cruel is the ANC!

    To abuse a senile veteran to save a few FATCAT cadres from unemployment after the 2024 elections?

    How low can you go?

    They did the same with ex president Nelson Mandela.

    His mind was long gone when the cruel ANC still tried to ‘milk’ Madiba magic to save their own skins!

    It’s a disgrace!

    The KZN voters will be embarassed by the cruelty of the soulless ANC aparachniks!

  • Hilary Morris says:

    Which tells us all we need to know about ANC ethics and integrity.

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