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Jacob Zuma’s MK spin-off faces uphill battle to win support

Jacob Zuma’s MK spin-off faces uphill battle to win support
Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook)

Officially called uMkhonto Wesizwe, according to an Electoral Commission of SA document, the newly formed party punted by former ANC president Jacob Zuma seems unlikely to become a serious contender. Those in the know believe it is a personal project to get back at those in the ANC who turned on him, while also creating political opportunities for his son.

Jacob Zuma’s defiant announcement that he would be supporting the newly formed uMkhonto Wesizwe party, as opposed to the ANC, in this year’s election has sent shock waves through the ANC.

Zuma’s former comrades from his stronghold in KwaZulu-Natal are preparing to go out in full force distancing themselves from  him – especially as there are hints that uMkhonto Wesizwe was created as a home for his son Duduzane’s presidential aspirations.

The party was launched publicly in Soweto on 16 December, Reconciliation Day, which marked the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the ANC’s armed wing. Zuma said he could no longer vote or campaign for a Cyril Ramaphosa-led ANC and threw his weight behind the newly registered party, while stressing that he remained an ANC member.

“The new people’s war starts from today,” said Zuma. “The only crucial difference is that instead of the bullet, this time we will use the ballot.”

Bheki Mtolo, the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial secretary, said the party was initially shocked when it heard about the launch of uMkhonto Wesizwe and Zuma’s endorsement of it, as the ANC had stood by him throughout his political and legal troubles over many years.

Mtolo said he believed Zuma (81) supported the formation of uMkhonto Wesizwe to benefit his family members. Zuma’s daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla sat beside her father during the Soweto launch. She has since taken to X and other social media networks to post pro-uMkhonto Wesizwe party material. Duduzane, Duduzile’s twin brother, has not disguised his presidential ambitions, telling the media that he is going to run for president in 2024.

Former South African president and president of the ANC Jacob Zuma (centre) announces the formation of a new political party in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 16 December 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / KIM LUDBROOK)

Nearly a year in the making

A KwaZulu-Natal leader, who was prominent in the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) wing of the ANC but spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said he attended numerous meetings since February last year, notably one at Coastlands Um­­hlanga Hotel and another at a house in Westville, Durban. The meetings were preceded by RET WhatsApp group messages calling on comrades to ready themselves for a new political battle.

“I think these activities occurred in February 2023, when Zuma had lost a case against Ramaphosa [which he had launched just two days before the start of the 56th ANC conference in December 2022, which re-elected Ramaphosa]. Comrades said ­uBaba wants us to start a new party that will capitalise on his popularity in KZN, in Mpumalanga and parts of Gauteng.

“Discussions were all about forming a political party that will start in KZN but spread throughout the country. The theme was that uBaba was not happy about Ramaphosa and there was a need to find ways to stop him from using white monopoly capital money to buy ANC branches and delegates.

“When we asked who is going to lead the party because uBaba is very old, they said uBaba wanted his son to lead. That is where some of us backed off. Privately, we said we don’t like Ramaphosa, but what does Duduzane knows about politics? We were taken for a ride.”

duduzane zuma

Duduzane Zuma. There are hints that uMkhonto Wesizwe was created as a home for Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane’s presidential aspirations. (Photo: Deaan Vivier)

Another former staunch Zuma supporter in the ANC eThekwini region said most of those who had come out in support of the new party are tenderpreneurs who benefitted hugely during Zuma’s term. When he was forced out of office, the tender taps dried up.

“These are the people who could go to any municipality and say, ‘uBaba said you must give me a tender so that some of the money can be used to support the ANC’, and they often got what they wanted.”

Mtolo said the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal leadership had now developed a strategy, which included “going around the province to inform its members and structures not to fall prey to JZ’s lies and fabrications”.

“uMkhonto Wesizwe will always be associated with the ANC. The ANC does not belong to the leaders. Most of all, it does not belong to the former or current leaders. The ANC does not belong to leaders of factions, the chief lobbyists and the founders of slates and factions.

“We must hit hard at JZ so that those who are operating in dark corners, peddling lies and fabrication, can come out in the open. This is important because some of them are in our election structures but still sympathise with a leader of the opposition. JZ is now no different from the leader of the DA – they are in the same WhatsApp group.”

The new party was registered on 7 September 2023 by a man called Jabulani ­Sibongiseni Khumalo, according to a letter from the Electoral Commission of SA that was ­later shared by ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula.

Soon after the launch, Khumalo described himself as a dissatisfied ANC member and former Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) soldier. Several former operatives of the armed wing who spoke to Daily Maverick have denied knowing Khumalo in the trenches.

Since then, he has been elusive. Several attempts to speak to him this week failed as his cellphone went unanswered. Journalists who have previously spoken to him said he had reneged on promises of interviews.

Zuma said he would not renounce his ANC membership, but “his conscience would not allow him to vote for the ANC of ‘sell-out’ Ramaphosa”, hence he would vote for uMkhonto Wesizwe. This has placed the ANC in a quandary and it has not yet specified what action, if any, it will take against its former president.

Mbalula told journalists this week that the ANC had begun litigation to stop Zuma and others from using the MK name, logo and other paraphernalia as they belong to the ANC.

Political supporters, some with MK caps and berets, gather to listen to Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Facebook)

A viable contender?

Since the launch of the uMkhonto Wesizwe party, it has dominated political discussions in radio and television programmes, newspapers and social media. Some of its key proponents have been bandying about big numbers of people who have since joined the launch.

Zuma has addressed some gatherings in community halls in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, where he was well received by supporters. Some of his uMkhonto Wesizwe party comrades have staged convoys in areas such as Umlazi, KwaMashu and Mpumalanga township in Hammarsdale. But the real strength of the party will become clear once it holds rallies and during the elections.

In the 2004 general elections, when Zuma was the deputy president, the ANC beat the IFP for the first time in KwaZulu-Natal, garnering 47% of the vote to the IFP’s 37%.

In the 2009 poll, when Zuma’s face was on the ballot as the ANC presidential candidate, the ANC decimated the IFP, gaining 63% of the vote and the IFP 22%.

In 2014, the ANC consolidated its lead by getting 64.5% while the IFP only got 11%. In 2019, when Zuma was no longer the ANC’s leader, the IFP began to regain lost ground by getting 16% to the ANC’s 54%. The DA got 13% and the EFF 9%.

Most recently, in the 2021 local government elections, the ANC won 41% of the vote against the IFP’s 24%, the DA’s 12% and the EFF’s 8%.

Only the ballot will determine what impact the new party will have on the electoral fortunes of the ANC, especially in KwaZulu-Natal. Ace Magashule, the former ANC secretary-general who was expelled and  then formed the African Congress for Transformation, has been reported by The Citizen newspaper as having thrown his party’s support behind the uMkhonto Wesizwe party.

Cracks appear

Daily Maverick’s attempts to speak to Zuma or Khumalo this week were unsuccessful. But one of uMkhonto Wesizwe’s organisers, Thanduxolo Dyodo, who called himself its secretary-general, said in an interview on Ukhozi FM that the party couldn’t afford to have a launch rally at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Cracks have already begun to show in the new party as members and leaders warred about positions in the glare of the public spotlight. Zuma issued a warning this week that people should not go around calling themselves leaders of uMkhonto Wesizwe, contending that the party had not yet elected or identified leaders who would represent it in the media or in the upcoming elections.

A media statement attributed to uMkhonto Wesizwe National Volunteers, issued on Thursday night, “disowned” Dyodo and disputed his being an office bearer of the party, let alone its secretary-general. “We would like to officially and unreservedly distance ourselves from the comment attributed to the unelected interim SG … which he made during an interview with Ukhozi FM.

“We would like to issue a comradely yet stern warning to acting president Khumalo not to make appointments on the basis of friendship but … on the basis of competency, capacity and political maturity as he himself has not been appointed as president by any congress whatsoever and thus must never forget that the MK party has attracted such a high number of members due to President Jacob Zuma, with whom the masses share a clear defined political ideology,” said the statement. “We did not join MK party because acting president Khumalo said so, and thus we humbly request that President Zuma be allowed to school those who are favoured to be in these interim structures…”

Some of the listeners who called Ukhozi FM said they were confused, whereas others called the new party “a joke”.

Marion Sparg, an activist, former MK guerrilla and public administrator who was arrested by the apartheid government, took to social media to say that former MK combatants should stop the misuse of the MK brand by Zuma and others. She said it was copyrighted in 2014 and the ANC’s court challenge to retain it would be successful.

Jacob Zuma addresses a recent rally for the uMkhonto Wesizwe party. (Photo: Facebook)

Zuma’s ‘stokvel’

Political pundits say the uMkhonto Wesizwe leadership and other challenges are clear signs that the new party is going to face an uphill battle in the coming weeks and months.

Zakhele Ndlovu, a senior political lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the party would be lucky to get more than 5% of votes in the province and very little elsewhere. He said uMkhonto Wesizwe was perceived as Zuma’s “stokvel” dominated by Zulus and people unhappy about how the current ANC leadership had treated them.

“The MK party has not shown us anything other than being a Zuma show. Zuma is trying his best to show how popular he remains in KZN. He seems to tap into his support among those who benefitted materially when he was the president of the country. So, what we are seeing here is the politics of patronage on full display. My guess is that these tenderpreneurs are longing for the return of the glory days when tenders came in handy.

“So far, the MK party appears to be in KZN and to a lesser extent in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Its presence has not been felt in the rest of the country. The question now is whether this party appeals mainly to Zulu speakers. Let’s keep in mind that when the looting occurred in 2021, it appeared to be confined to KZN and Gauteng – provinces with a significant presence of Zulus. Zuma himself will be remembered as a divisive figure and as someone who used Zulu nationalism when it suited him.”

Ndlovu said rumours would have it that the uMkhonto Wesizwe party is Zuma’s ploy to create a campaigning constituency for Duduzane. “If that is the case, I don’t see it succeeding or the son succeeding in politics. He doesn’t have the acumen to succeed in politics.”

Bheki Nkwanyana, an academic and columnist for Ilanga, a popular isiZulu newspaper, said if the uMkhonto Wesizwe party failed, it would finally expunge the last vestiges of credibility that Zuma still had among people.

“Zuma has always been a polarising figure. Some people loved him and others hated him with passion. The MK party will not significantly dent the ANC. When he became president he took in many IFP supporters who felt he appealed to their culture.

“The MK party is already facing a leadership crisis … and even the credentials of the founder [Khumalo] is questioned by people who were in the trenches. No prominent leader has come out in support of the new party. If the party fails, Zuma would lose whatever legacy he had as he will always be regarded as the leader who turned his back on an organisation that he has been part of for many years,” Nkwanyana said.

Legal commentator Mpu­­melelo Zikalala said the ANC was likely to win the MK name and logo copyright case.

“But this will take some time and, by then, the founders of the new party would have used all the mileage. So, even if they lose the case, they can tell their supporters to reunite under a new name.” DM

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

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Well, time will tell, not this article. But it certainly respresent some challenging problems for the ANC

  • Con Tester says:

    Diluting the ANC vote, however marginally, can never be a bad thing for SA in the long run. It’ll be interesting to see just how miserably this Zuma project fails. But one thing is certain, and that is that the two Dudus Zumas’ failed aspirations will not provoke in them any introspection or reassessment of their position or ethic. Instead, the petulant excuses and sulky blame-shifting will fly thick and fast.

  • Morrison Belebana says:

    Mr Zuma hates Ramaphosa and this is clear to everyone as a result he is recruiting everyone to hate Ramaphosa too. Zuma is a spent force, he must just sit at home and play with his grandchildren.

  • Michael Whitaker says:

    Hopefully the “two Dudus” will become the “twin Dodo’s” very quickly. The less I hear about the name Zuma the better.

  • Dave Crawford says:

    Nice touch that: “My guess is that these tenderpreneurs are longing for the return of the glory days when tenders came in handy.”

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    A good move it will give KZN to a DA/IFP coalition.

  • Lyster Whitfield says:

    Even though Zuma heartlessly took South Africa to the very brink of destruction so that he and his family could obtain obscene wealth and even though he stole from the poorest of the the poor they still support and idolize this terrible man in the hope of being thrown some crumbs. They do not live by principles but by the politics of the stomach.

  • khasilucas85 says:

    For the first time I’m agreeing with Daily Maverick

  • Rae Earl says:

    Quote; “JZ is now no different from the leader of the DA”. What utter bullshit. John Steenhuisen is an accomplished and astute politician without any hint of corruption to his name. Zuma is a cunning crowd pleaser who was always ready to climb into bed with people like his close friends the Gupta brothers. Cunning, but ultimately sorely lacking in intelligence. He accepted piles of money from crooks who almost succeeded in stealing the whole country from under his nose. South Africa is in a vastly poorer state after Zuma’s 9 year looting spree under the protective guardianship of the entire ANC. Ramaphosa enjoys the same guardianship from his inner circle which is why it is imperative for the ANC to be dethroned entirely next year.

  • david2dag says:

    The thing is a farce, there does not even appear to a leadership structure in place, they couldn’t afford to a launch rally at Moses Mabhida Stadium, members are fighting for positions, there is no mention of the media contacting the leader \ presidential candidate of the party, Mr Duduzane Zuma, who by all means is as corrupt as his father.

    As others has commented below, if it weakens the ANC then it can’t be entirely a bad thing. The ANC are already tearing themselves apart slowly but surely from within, they cannot pay their staff, they have not addressed a fraction of the corruption allegations against it’s members (except for a few cases where it suited them or they could not control the situation) and there are factions fighting each other. The fact that they cannot stop loadshedding will probably be their biggest downfall in this years elections.

  • Henri Christie says:

    Useless piece of garbage should be behind bars , shouldn’t be permitted to even open his lying mouth in public. His miraculous recovery from being on death bed while in prison was nothing more than staged with Silent Cyril being the scriptwriter

  • wasabi.teary_0b says:

    And you got it all wrong. He’s not laying the foundation for his son this is all for himself. The son has his own party too, it doesn’t make Zuma’s mission less dangerous though.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

  • Alpha Sithole says:

    If you are stupid enough to vote for another bunch of thieves, you deserve what you get. There’s certainly plenty to choose from – 365 political party options? What a joke and no wonder a large proportion don’t even bother to vote.

    • Con Tester says:

      Amidst all of its many botched efforts, voter apathy in SA is another thing that is entirely the ANC’s fault. This, for two reasons. First, there’s its gutting of basic education which has helped significantly in keeping the electorate uninformed. (It is debatable whether this is by design or just a happy consequence of its abysmal ineptitude.) Second, through its consistent and repeated failures regarding service provision, social support, and serially broken promises, it has engendered a common view that voting doesn’t change anything and is therefore pointless.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    I really do hope and pray that this ‘party’ is a complete failure (but manages to tie up large amounts of ANC resources in fighting it), so that we can get rid of this pathological liar, fraud and crook once and for all. And then go after all his tenderpreneur backers with a vengeance.

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Any word yet on what this party stands “for” (there’s plenty about what it’s against)? Is it simply the “anti-ANC”? Isn’t the EFF the same thing, only with a different wannabe dictator-of-your-choice at the helm? Also – does the ANC own the copyrights of MK, its logo and paraphernalia? Another question – does the ANC own the rights to the use of the word “apartheid”?

  • Gazeley Walker says:

    The pundits say that this MK party will turn out to be a bit of a damp squib, unfortunately, they may have underestimated the grass root discontent with the ANC. Many of these voters see this Zuma M.K. party as a viable option to the ANC, especially in KZN where Zuma still has some strong pull.

  • All I can say is to thank you MR ZUMA my president for what you have done for the south Africans .I remember the youth of 1976 .ANC is no more;;;;;;;;;;;;;;

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