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The Zuma/MK impact on general elections? Marginal at best

The Zuma/MK impact on general elections? Marginal at best
Illustrative image | Former South African president Jacob Zuma. (Photos: Ihsaan Haffejee / AFP | Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

With the ANC expected to soon act against former President Jacob Zuma over his campaigning for the new uMkhonto Wesizwe party, it is clear that this strange conflict will be one of the features of this year’s elections. While Zuma may believe the new party will have a big impact, there are limits to how much significance it will have for most voters.

Jacob Zuma’s announcement just before the holiday season that he would campaign and vote for the new uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party caught most by surprise. It was astonishing that a former leader of a governing party, one who still receives a state pension, VIP security and other benefits, would do this.

Also, it seemed inconceivable that a person who has divided our country for so long, and has so tarnished South Africa’s name (especially during the Zondo Commission hearings) could continue to play a political role — and be free to do so. Given that Zuma’s political generation is now well past pensionable age, it also seemed unlikely that he could still have a big influence with an entirely new formation.

However, it’s now emerged that the party was registered with the Electoral Commission back in September.

The fact that some of its events have been relatively well attended also suggests that there was an organisational effort already in place.

The date of the announcement, just before the holiday season, and its hosting at least one event in Mkhondo, Mpumalanga, soon before the ANC’s January 8th Statement in the province, helped the party grab a fair percentage of headlines during the past few weeks.

This is all evidence of effective strategic thought but still leaves unanswered the question of how much influence the party will have come election time.

Siyabonga Hadebe has argued in Business Day that Zuma may well address the aspirations of those for whom very little has changed since the end of formal apartheid. He suggests that even if uMkhonto Wesizwe does not win much support now, there will be more parties basing their programmes on addressing inequality. 

In the Sunday Times, Sipho Singiswa predicted that Zuma will win strong support and suggested that the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa is now very weak.

While praising Zuma, Singiswa made no mention whatsoever of the corruption claims against him and the strong evidence that Zuma is guilty of corruption involving Schabir Shaik and the Guptas.

Jacob Zuma corruption trial predictably postponed again with ConCourt appeal decision pending 

Consequences of Zuma’s rule

Life in South Africa has become harder in the past five years. Inflation is higher than it was, load shedding is more intense and violent crime has risen.

Zuma is likely to argue that this is all the fault of Ramaphosa, that despite all the available evidence, Ramaphosa bears responsibility for all the consequences of Zuma’s rule.

But in reality, it was while Zuma was president that corruption increased, the Guptas were able to steal billions, Eskom power stations were overused and Transnet was neglected. In short, the evidence shows it was during and often because of Zuma’s rule that the state was hollowed out to this extent.

Not for nothing did Ramaphosa refer to this time as “nine wasted years”.

And yet, just as many Americans believe President Joe Biden is responsible for the rising cost of living, so many voters here may believe their quality of life has declined because of Ramaphosa.

Also, the failure of the justice system and the National Prosecuting Authority to charge those responsible (including Zuma) for State Capture despite Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s findings means that Zuma can argue he and his allies are innocent of wrongdoing.

There is a reason he and others always argue that the justice system is biased against them. They have been making the argument for so long that some voters may now believe it.

Ramaphosa has scored several own goals here, making him extremely vulnerable to attack.

First, despite the public evidence of how bad things are for so many people, he has done virtually nothing. He has refused to be assertive in dealing with government failures.

So weak is his government that he could not even use the ANC’s January 8th Statement event to promise better. Instead, he focused on the ANC’s track record over the past 30 years.

Crushed by the present, the ANC will rely on the past to help it win the future

And of course, the Phala Phala saga and the way the ANC used its parliamentary majority to defend Ramaphosa is an open door for attacks on the President. Zuma and his allies can argue that it is Ramaphosa who is corrupt and that he has been using US dollars to buy votes in the ANC.

Also, the ANC is organisationally weak at the moment, making it easier to organise against it.

However, there are still reasons to believe uMkhonto Wesizwe will not win many votes, at least outside of Zuma’s political heartland of KZN.

Even if it can organise against the ANC, it is unlikely that any new party would be able to compete nationally. The best-case scenario for Zuma would probably amount to a few pockets of strong support.

A well-informed electorate

At the same time, while life may have deteriorated for most people in SA over the past five years, the electorate has more access to political information than at any time in our history. Many voters will be aware of what happened, why and who was responsible.

The SABC and other broadcasters carried live testimony from the Zondo Commission, making sure that many people know what happened during the Zuma years.

This will make it difficult for Zuma to claim that he is not guilty of corruption and played no role in enabling it.

While he may argue that millions of people are still living a life defined by apartheid, it is obvious that he had the power to change much of this and did not. While he publicly proclaimed his support for land expropriation without compensation, he did not institute such a policy while President.

If he believes in radical change now, why did he do nothing during the nine years while he was President?

But perhaps the most important reason Zuma is unlikely to win much support is that he only ever became President because of the strength and organisation of the ANC while he was its leader. He took over a massive organisation that was controlling the resources of the entire government. For all of the time he was its leader, the ANC was more popular than he was.

Now, uMkhonto Wesizwe may be defined solely by Zuma’s image, which places a ceiling on its possible support, even in KZN.

However, that does not mean the party may not play a significant role at some point. 

In an era where parties with one or two seats in a council can end up holding the mayoralty of a major metro, it is entirely possible that a party with just one or two seats in the National Assembly or a provincial legislature (such as in KZN) could hold the balance of power.

This presents a danger to the ANC — it might have to negotiate with a party controlled by someone who hates its current leader.

While this would complicate matters for the ANC, it is not evidence of a major shift in our politics.

Of course, much can still happen — more smallanyana skeletons could emerge about Zuma and the ANC could make more missteps — but it seems unlikely that uMkhonto Wesizwe can make a major change in our politics, whatever the party’s name will be by the time voters queue to cast their votes. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Paul Savage says:

    “The failure of the justice system and the National Prosecuting Authority to charge those responsible … ” Isn’t it unbelievable how useless the NPA is? Just take the VBS bank case. The Motau report came out October 2018, more than 5 years ago. If ever there was a case ripe and ready for prosecution, that would be such a case. Motau had gathered all of the evidence, presented it in forensic detail in a report, and yet 5 years later the NPA has taken no significant steps to prosecute those in charge of VBS bank, and those associated with the crime. Only poor Phillip Truter, the CFO, who pled guilty, and was happy to share all of his inside knowledge with the NPA, has served jail time. (Is he out yet?) Civil society collapses without a functioning NPA, so its no wonder everything in the country is failing. When wrongdoers are not afraid of being prosecuted, they keep doing wrong things. Why do we have an NPA?

    • Geoff Coles says:

      Do we really have a NPA, or indeed a functioning Police Force.

    • Colin K says:

      Screwing up the NPA was one of Zuma’s best strategic moves. But even if the NPA was top-flight, we’d still have the problem of court rolls bursting at the seams. I read that Gauteng, in particular, has a massive backlog.

      The less said about the Judicial Services Commission, the better

  • Joe Soap says:

    Steven, you forgot to mention Jacob’s miraculous recovery from his terminal illness. Without this miracle, he could not be doing this MK stuff.

    JZ will make a huge impact. The ANC, which is well known for exposing its internal battles in public, will do the same with this one. Yes, this is an internal battle. JZ made it so by claiming to be an ANC member until the day he dies. This is the biggest internal battle the ANC has had to deal with. I for one hope it mark the end of the ANC.

  • William Kelly says:

    It’s the best we can hope for. Galling that we’re paying him a tax free pension of R3m a year plus plus. The only justice we can hope for is that he runs out of money in his old age owing to his debts that will hopefully sink the old codger. These elections will hopefully bury him politically and leave him exposed to his lawsuits.

  • Rae Earl says:

    The “9 lost years” of Zuma’s presidency has now been equaled by the “6 lost years” (and counting), of Ramaphosa’s presidency. What should have been regarded as a crushing blow against his detractors at the head of the ANC feeding trough in 2017, has instead been continuously glossed over by Ramaphosa’s flowery rhetoric and inane comments at political gatherings. If the man had got off his dithering backside from that day onwards and tackled SA’s problems as a leader instead of an obedient “collective” lackey, SA would be going into these elections without the looming spectre of unstable coalitions.

    • Lebitsi Leburu says:

      Spot on. Ramaphosa is worse than Zuma. Corruption under him is worse than during the Zuma era. Batohi is also a huge disappointment. Clearly a political appointee taking orders from real ANC leaders, not from Ramaphosa who is a total coward as Steenhuizen says.

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    “However, it’s now emerged that the party was registered with the Electoral Commission back in September.”

    Where have you been? This trended in current affairs topics the moment the IEC approved the party registration and the ANC realised it had missed the window of opportunity to lodge an objection to the use of the MK name.

  • Grant S says:

    All secondary to the glaring challenge of our (not so) young democracy; the inability or refusal of voters to vote for an alternative future. Keep voting for the same (or off shoots of the same) political elite and expect improvement. Societal systemic insanity.

    Equally, when you have little to lose, no change isn’t a degradation of circumstance and ignorance is bliss, as ‘they’ say.

    Zuma is a nation destroying criminal enabler – at best. A nation destroying, intricately involved criminal strategist and executioner at worst.

    So many political leaders of today were or are closely aligned, had knowledge of, and/or participated in Zuma’s emptying of ‘Bank SA’ that the decay will be extremely difficult to halt or reverse. Yet we remain optimistic and the all too often abused ‘resilient’.

    What we actually mean when we say resilient is we’ve become self-reliant in areas where our taxes should be the funding pool for basic services. So SA’s tax payers, pay once through the fiscus and then again as a secondary tax to get the actual service desired.

    Off on a tangent I know, but so many column inches dedicated to topics and people that should be concerned about journalistic content when the reality is they don’t give a ####, will lie without guilt (fire pool anyone?) and are unconcerned about anything other then self-enrichment.

    The voter could change this, but likely won’t, because collectively we still have much to overcome from a past filled with distrust.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    This is a very well written article by Stephen Grootes that has taken into account the views of some analysts and their shortcomings. A lot has been made out of the Zuma decision to campaign for the party known as MK for now but Stephen has put a lot of issues into perspective that militate against Zuma gaining support with the MK Party. He point out to the plans of Zuma he had to prepare for his announcement. He correctly points to Zuma who is going to have a focus on KZN but what he does not do is to call him what he is and what in the social media call him, a tribalist. He correctly points out that he would find it very difficult to get support nationally or in other Provinces . In Mpumalanga, he teamed up with a certain Motha who paid for the event in Mkhondo but that was opportunistic. This is because of nine leaders of the area arrested for vigilantism who have the support of the community. He is not going back there as he has no solution for the people who are facing crime in their problem but the government is going to be able to intervene and it is the end of him and the corrupt people in Mkhondo. In KZN what Stephen has not mentioned, it is that the ANC unified the factions by taking Ntuli to head elections and Zikalala to be Minister of Infrastructure. The people who run the ANC Province were his people and they are now going to destroy him. He stands very little chance in KZN given the deluge of floods and the massive government intervention before elections.

  • I think it’s safe to say the writer is Ramaphosa’s mouth piece. The man jus praised his government for dishing out social grants to 28 million south Africans and yet ou don’t see any fault at that. You say Zuma devided our country, please tell us how. I don’t remember him making tribal or racist comments.

    • Colin K says:

      How about his newest “suggestion” that the amakhosi should be given sovereign status and that elections are Western plot to impoverish African people.

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    Shaik was dying, Zuma was dying. Both look very fit and health to me. Reminds me of the song “only the lonely” except in the ANC it should be changed to read Only the connected” Anyone else and they would have been in prison long ago. Not even sure just what the Hawks and NPA are doing these days. Huge expense’s for little gain.

    The ANS remain a protected breed of untouchables. Children dying of hunger in the Eastern cape yet there are funds to send a huge team to Belgium, America and Britain to fight Israel. How many children have being murdered by Russia and their maniacal leader? However no court case lodged against them by our erstwhile government. Viva the party that upholds human rights.

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