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ANALYSIS

Headache to Migraine — Zuma works towards becoming ANC’s KZN problem

Headache to Migraine — Zuma works towards becoming ANC’s KZN problem
Illustrative image | Sources: Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Scott Eells / Bloomberg via Getty Images) | President Cyril Ramaphosa during the ANCs 110th anniversary celebrations at the Old Peter Mokaba Stadium on 8 January 2022 in Limpopo, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Philip Maeta) | A general view of Luthuli House Headquarters on 28 July 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | Felix Dlangamandla

The decision by former President Jacob Zuma to campaign against the ANC, while formally remaining a member of it, is creating serious problems for the party while pushing its leadership in KwaZulu-Natal to move closer to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Former President Jacob Zuma throwing his lot in with the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party may have the unexpected consequence of helping President Cyril Ramaphosa to enforce unity in the ANC and empowering the party to claim people should vote for it to “stop Zuma”. At least one senior ANC leader has said he’s concerned violence could be sparked.

Over the last few weeks and particularly the last few days, the ANC has had to respond to many questions about Zuma. The party has still not made a formal decision about expelling or disciplining him, and Ramaphosa had to greet the “real MK” when he delivered the party’s January 8th Statement.

The ANC’s problem is simple.

Every time any leader or structure of the party talks about Zuma, it legitimises him and allows the possibility that he still has political power.

Still, Zuma is impossible to ignore.

As has been previously noted, it is unprecedented in South Africa for the former leader of a governing party to run against that party. 

A divisive figure

Some may have forgotten how important Zuma has been in our recent history. It is fair to say that no single person has divided our country as much as he has since 1990. He dominated our politics, from the conviction of Schabir Shaik for paying him a bribe in 2005, all the way through to his resignation as President on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Along the way, he sparked intense debates about rape and intergenerational sex, the Guptas, polygamy, traditional leaders, free tertiary education, corruption and many, many other issues.

Even three years after he lost power, the decision to jail him sparked massive violence, which claimed the lives of more than 300 people and caused economic damage to the tune of at least $3-billion. Through it all, right up until the December 2017 conference, Zuma could rely on the unshakeable support of the ANC.

Nowhere was that support stronger than in KZN, which is one of the reasons the ANC in that province has come under extreme pressure in recent days.

On Tuesday, its provincial secretary Bheki Mtolo told SAfm that Zuma was “no longer a member of the ANC”, because he had expelled himself.

Mtolo also said, several times, that the ANC in KZN strongly supported Ramaphosa.

This has not always been the case.

At the ANC’s conferences in 2017 and 2022, the KZN ANC strongly backed other candidates. In 2017, it supported outgoing Presidency Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. This was seen as support for Zuma’s political unit.

In 2022, it supported the former health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, despite the strong evidence of corruption against him from the Digital Vibes scandal.

In the end, at both of those conferences, the ANC in KZN came away with no members in the party’s top leadership.

Also, in 2021 the local elections results exposed the ANC’s weakness there, and the possibility that it could lose the provincial elections later this year.

All of this has given the party’s provincial leaders few options.

Political suicide

While some of its members have strongly supported Zuma in the past, and even after he was released from prison, it would be political suicide to do so now. No member of the ANC can publicly support someone campaigning against the party.

Many of these people will feel betrayed and that they have been placed in an invidious position.

At the same time, while Mtolo and others may believe Zuma has “expelled himself” from the ANC, that is not Zuma’s view.

As recently as Wednesday morning, MK spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndhlela said on SAfm that Zuma “is a member of the ANC and will die a member of the ANC”.

That makes it even more difficult for the party to deal with this issue, as a large part of the battle is about the heritage and legacy of the ANC.

In short, the history of the ANC is now the playing field and Zuma and the ANC are fighting for it.

A surprising warning

Amidst this, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has issued a surprising warning about Zuma, MK and violence.

He told SAfm on Wednesday morning that he was concerned about security, and asked, “Where is this thing going to end? Remember, this party has been named after the military wing of the ANC which is itself a problem, but it is being dealt with elsewhere. 

“And then people will think and associate the party with the military wing of the ANC, which was established for legitimate reasons at that time for a particular objective… 

“And so people will get emotional about this and there is somebody that needs to be fought. Now once they get into that mode, we need to worry … who is the person who must be fought and so on? And so, we need to deal with that, while making sure that the country is stable from a security point of view.”

Mchunu has a long history with the ANC in KZN (he narrowly and somewhat inexplicably lost to Ace Magashule for the position of secretary-general in 2017). He appears to be suggesting that the formation of MK and Zuma’s involvement will lead to violence.

Of course, the violent reaction to Zuma’s imprisonment in 2022 may well inform this comment.

There is a more cynical reading of this, which is that the ANC is preparing the ground to use the security forces against MK should it pose a major political threat.

Either way, the fact that Mchunu made this suggestion is very significant.

Meanwhile, at the polls, the manner in which Zuma is campaigning may lead to a very strange outcome.

There appear to be many people who voted for the party when it was led by Nelson Mandela or Thabo Mbeki but have moved away from it in recent times.

If Ramaphosa and the ANC can convince those voters that MK poses a real threat, then they could argue that the best way to prevent Zuma becoming President again would be to vote for the ANC.

And so the ANC of 2024 could start a campaign to “Stop Zuma”, 15 years after Helen Zille did so. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ntsakisi Shimati says:

    Their dividing themselves and expect voters to trust them.

    • Grant S says:

      Anyone that still trusts the ANC is living in the ‘pre-Zuma as President’ past. Very sad to see an organisation that was once globally respected, turn into whatever it is today. A political gravy train running out of track. Couldn’t even manage to maintain that bit of infrastructure.

  • Francois Smith says:

    Mr Grootes, thank you for an insightful article. The issue at hand is also affecting those outside the ANC. It will be appreciated if you or some of the other readers can shed light how it will influence the total voting pattern. In short, can the IFP gain votes from this mess? And then also what will Zuma do with the votes he receives? He can definitely not add it to the ANC’s tally and the MPC will not want him either. Thus, in my opinion, the votes MK gets, are sterilized. It can go nowhere significantly. Can this cause negotiated settlement between the big players in RSA politics? Something like: DA and IFP, you manage KZN and we manage Gauteng and you manage the metros?

    • Mbulelo Journey says:

      Why do you think Zuma, “can definitely not add it to the ANC’s tally”? I still think there is reason to believe Zuma is doing this to ensure Ramaphosa falls after a poor showing by the ANC under his leadership at polls he helped orchestrate. In such a situation, a “partner” bearing gifts in the form of MK seats in legislatures could have a strong negotiating position, not forgetting that proving he still pulls votes is in itself a massive show of strength politically (something the SACP has been unwilling to risk for fear of failure). If he has no intention of going back to or at least influencing the ANC, why would he be campaigning against a so-called “ANC of Ramaphosa” and maintain his ANC membership?

    • Jeff Robinson says:

      Crucial questions. Thanks for the post.

  • shnbwmn says:

    The “heritage and legacy” of the ANC is a former revolutionary movement that has failed dismally at governance and cannot shift its thinking into modern politics without using dead terms like cadre, comrade and counter-revolutionary. Zuma’s foray into the political spotlight may break the ANC’s stranglehold on rural ANC voters – but potentially also see a coalition, with him once again welding state power. On a sidenote, once South Africans grow a 🧠 and vote for a party that can actually govern, it would be tantamount to enact laws that forbid MPs or any public servant from having a criminal record.

  • Jan Vos says:

    This comment of mine is also awaiting moderation, I suppose. Like ALL THE OTHERS!

  • Ben Hawkins says:

    He’s an oxygen thief, WTF does he still get so much airtime in politics

  • Mcr EThekwini resident says:

    Zuma has betrayed everyone along the way. The country as president, his fellow ministers by asking them to defend his indefensible behaviour, the anc caucus in parliament and now the anc as a whole. His behaviour has been consistent- why is the anc – kzn anc in particular, surprised? Zuma has remained true to his credo all along. The only person who counts in his universe is he himself.

  • Cachunk Cachunk says:

    In a Country where the populace’s thoughts are lead by self preservation (not suicide), careful consideration and intelligence (not hysterical emotion and obedience), determination for progress (not blind loyalty), the useless anc wouldn’t stand a chance.

  • Johan Buys says:

    For once, cadre deployment is working for South Africa!

    No ANC cadre in a plush job and with access to the public purse is going to risk that by stepping out in support of former prisoner zuma.

  • Cameron murie says:

    Well, we have already seen what happens next. All the ingredients are there, for a re-run of the widespread violence and looting that Zuma and his supporters are willing and able to organize.
    But if it happens again, police and military live rounds will fly, and we may well have hundreds of deceased.
    Just imagine 3 days of that on international television. Marikana meets sharpville.
    It’s depressing.

  • Pierre Strydom says:

    This man, single-handedly, caused our country (post Verwoerd) more damage than any other person had. Not only did he lead and promote the corruption of our economic system, but also did immense damage to race relations. He should be tried for treason.

  • Steven Grootes you are leaving in a dream land. You think we can believe your lies about our former President. Your favorite president has failed us black people and made sure that you white poeple get everything that you want. Listen and reading your comments made believe that you are pushing a certain agenda. So know that here in KZN we will vote for progress because your darling president has made sure that he destroys this province.

    • Jeff Robinson says:

      In case Mr. Grootes is unable or disinclined to respond, let me request that you cite which of his statements are facutually incorrect and thus qualify as lies. Your accusation is in every way defamatory and you owe it to all of us readers to bring forward your evidence in the form of verbatim quotes. I very much doubt that many “white poeple [sic]” think our sitting president has given “everything” that they “want”.

    • Con Tester says:

      Ramaposeur & Co. are as much of a parasitic infestation and blight on this country as was this commenter’s favourite (Carb)uncle Zuma and his debased lot in their day. Disdaining either one of them doesn’t automatically entail support for the other. This is inordinately tricky logic, but, as the saying goes, two things can be true at the same time. Thus, the perception in this comment is just as flawed as its fawning adulation for a crafty crook and dodgy deceiver is amusingly unsophisticated.

    • Denise Smit says:

      I suggest and evidence is there that Zuma has made sure he destroys your province

    • Denise Smit says:

      Zuma regards himself as the lifelong Chief of this country, and his family are to inherit his throne. As Chief he can do anything

    • MaverickMe says:

      @Sphelele Mbatha. Your drivel that you posted is proof that you are a very well balanced voter……you have a chip on both shoulders. Could you kindly enlighten us as to the ” progress” made in KZN as all I can see is a progression to a failed province at the expense of its citizens and soley for the benefit of the politically connected.

  • A truly compasionate leader who cares for his people and the citizens of the country, is expected to vacate any sit or position peacefully to allow growth and stability in the country. It is totally different. My question is “did he expect to be a President for more than his time served”? Is he happy about his time served to the citizens of the country? I am not here to judge anyone, hence asking those questions and believe he knows and knew his plans while he was leading the country. Did he serve us who believed in him with his whole heart and soul?

  • Tim Bester says:

    Just love it!
    Any “problem” for the unholy SACP/anc alliance is good news for all South Africans.
    Zuma was fed by them and now they will be bitten by him.
    Sweet justice for all…

  • Geoff Coles says:

    A pox on both Parties. …..but surely Zuma cannot campaign for another Party?….. He can’t stand as a candidate in Parliament either after his criminal conviction.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    “There is a more cynical reading of this, which is that the ANC is preparing the ground to use the security forces against MK should it pose a major political threat.”

    While the ANC vacillated about deploying the SANDF to protect the citizens of KZN in response to Zuma’s last violent uprising I have no doubt whatever that they will be quicker off the mark if they perceive a real threat to their grip on power. I fear we are speeding down the well worn regional path to balkanization and war lordism

  • Trevor Gray says:

    Great prescient op-ed. I myself was mulling over the exact same issue. KZN is rife with all manner of malaise. Whether it is a completely flawed and inept local governance structures,through to political assassinations as well as infrastructure failure brought on by extreme natural events , and a feudal fiefdom that is in contravention with the tenets of our democracy, the powder keg is dangerously primed.
    Zuma and his acolytes know this and will add to this at every opportunity. Surely schadenfreude is appropriate as the condoning of Zuma by the lily livered ANC led by straw man Ramaphosa for so long is their ultimte folly? Zuma has always been consistent in his actions. For the ANC to now wake to the realization that Zuma is not going to play ball is bizarre.He is a thug and a traitor requiring absolute excommunication from the ANC and South African politics. We have some scant conolation that a onc bacon
    democracy is facing the same existential crisis which is not looking good. IRONY much?

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Thank you Stephen, definitely an interesting article.

    I would, however like to pose a question to you and to other readers, and it is a VERY uncomfortable one.

    You mention that Zuma “divided SA like never before”. What if this isn’t actually the case? You mention “rape, intergenerational sex, the Guptas, polygamy, traditional leaders, free tertiary education, corruption” and you gently open these subjects by saying that he fomented “intense debate” of these subjects. Not everyone debated, to be fair.

    So here is my uncomfy question. Is it possible that JUST like Trump, Zuma is not actually a divisive person as much as he and his following show an existing divide which some would rather ignore and which they both profit from?

    Could it be? Is it possible that Zuma exists BECAUSE a large part of our population has a completely different view on these issues? Issues which “we” call rape, bribery, corruption, public violence, cronyism and patronage networks are the modern reimagining of a tribal system which for many rural South Africans has never gone away?

    Is he REALLY so divisive? Or is there a pre-existing division of mind between the educated forward looking South Africans (of every background culture and creed) who want a more westernised democratic country and those who would rather see us return to a tribal fiefdom where the chief rules unchallengeable and guiltless?

    The riots in KZN blew many minds. “We” couldn’t do that, but “we” did?

    It’s just a question?

    • Johan Buys says:

      In addition to your point that maybe there are a million people that share former prisoner zuma’s point of view, the other big risk is the extent to which he still has the support of his network inside especially our “intelligence” apparatus plus army and police.

      If they do commit treason it will get very ugly very fast because there is a well-armed, skilled and well-motivated (nowhere to go) population in SA.

    • Con Tester says:

      I’ve often wondered along the same lines. If the hypothesis is correct of a wide gulf dividing conceptions of what makes good and/or principled leadership between educated and uneducated people, then that would also go a long way towards explaining the ANC’s persistent pre-eminence, despite its very many abysmal failures because these are either not seen as failures by the great unwashed, or they are seen as not being the leadership’s fault.

      It’s an interesting question.

  • Rae Earl says:

    If the MK spokesperson, Ndhlela is indicative of the general make-up of the party then 2 alternatives are apparent. Firstly they don’t have a hope in hell of garnering the millions of votes they’re expecting to get judging by the arrogance of this clown. Secondly, his deeply racists comments about the ANC being controlled by white capitalists is war talk aimed at the vulnerable youth of SA. Zuma’s followers were responsible for the 2021 riots which led to over 300 deaths. Bearing this in mind, is the MK party considering violence as an option in their quest for power?

  • Deon Schoeman says:

    Why does the ANC not terminate his membership??? Its like working for a company but do marketing for the competitor !! Whats wrong with these people ???

    • Greeff Kotzé says:

      Because they know full well that any sort of disciplinary process would only (a) grant him the spotlight he is so desperately seeking, and (b) allow him to act the victim yet again, something that plays terrifically for him with his political base. And there’s no guarantee that they would get past his trademarked Stalingrad delay tactics and get the whole thing done before the elections arrive.

      In short, to formally move against him would be self-defeating to the ANC in the short term. On the other hand, failing to be seen taking action may very well be self-defeating to the party in the long term — but that’s a worry for the time after Election Day.

    • Annika Larsson says:

      Things that might harm the ANC’s image of itself it does very slowly in contrast to things where it might score a buck or two. That’s why it’s taken them so long to suspend Zuma from the party.

      But you’re right. The real question is whether they dare kick him out.

  • Frank Fettig says:

    ANC, the crying circus that never ends…

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    How has the MK party not be interdicted at every single turn for trying to step on the identity of the ANC? Also – can it be done before ballot papers get printed. ‘Cos we really don’t want to be charged twice for that.

  • Fernando Moreira says:

    Vote DA

  • Daniel Mohakane says:

    Having mentioned few valid points regarding the relationship between Cyril and the KZN ANC, it is also important to note that the friction between the two might not have ceased as a result of Zumas new association, but found comfort for the KZN to punish Ramaphosa

  • Michael K WaKwaSibanda says:

    I think there is more to this than what it appears to be. Recent outcomes in by-elections showed the ANC losing the province to the IFP. I still think JZ wants to stop this by drawing sympathy votes from the predominantly Zulu populace. The ANC might poll below 50% in KZN, but be in governance via a coalition with the MK. As much as JZ is maligned, he is not stupid, not at all. He said he wants to “SAVE THE ANC” and believe it or not , he just might,especially in KZN where is very popular.

  • David Crossley says:

    I would like to think that Zuma is a spent force but it appears that he still carries weight in KZN. However, I cannot see the MKW gaining any significant votes – or maybe I am naive.

  • The Zulu nation one of the proudest nations on earth yet some are prepared to follow a person like Zuma, with a track record of ruining the country and financially bringing us to our knees. Mr. Mandela a visionary and true leader realized his intent and distanced himself from Zuma and his entourage so why are our people even talking to this man.

  • Peter Mapaya says:

    Zuma is truly a greedy man, he wants all monies for himself, all women for himself, he is doing so because those fearful men in KZN are no longer alive, he want to be KZN only recognized as boss KZN.

  • This is a problem that might work for the ANC. But I think the support for the new movement might die down eventually and people will be lazy to vote. Zuma’s real power will be tested at the polls.

  • Elephant in the house….this man is a cancer in our life

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    Just why is this thief not yet in Jail? Would like to know who is going to pay the millions he owes the state for all his pathetic court cases. According to this thief he does not have the money. Lets give him another chance so he can steal what is needed. Not so long ago he was the saviour of the nation. According to the ANC that is. And now?

  • moltecafrica says:

    KZN is not South Africa. The old man’s marbles are lost!
    Tribalistic tendencies he shows are gonna be defeated come election day. So “ANC of Ramaphosa isn’t the one he head in mind when he nearly had an attack when a person other than an Nguni came up tops. Leaving in the past.Shame on him

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