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ANALYSIS

Jacob Zuma, the violence-monger: Concern over unrest in 2024 polls

Jacob Zuma, the violence-monger: Concern over unrest in 2024 polls
Illustrative image | Jacob Zuma (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw) | July 2021 unrest. (Photos: Shiraaz Mohamed | Gallo Images / Darren Stewart | Rajesh Jantilal / AFP | Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

The SA Human Rights Commission’s inconclusive findings about the 2021 KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng riots should serve as a warning about the potential for more violence in the upcoming elections. The fact that former president Jacob Zuma is campaigning for a new party may increase the chance of such incidents occurring. However, there are still factors that mitigate against the use of public violence as a political tool.

The finding of the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that there was insufficient evidence to link the jailing of former president Jacob Zuma in July 2021 with the violence that followed immediately afterwards is likely to be hotly debated in the coming days.

The finding flies in the face of claims by Zuma himself.

In April 2022, at an application related to his corruption trial, Zuma’s lawyers argued that the riots were “partly motivated or sparked, to whatever extent, by a sense of public outrage at perceived injustice and special treatment of Mr Zuma”.

The SAHRC rightfully pointed out, however, that while the violence was “well-resourced” and the police and security services largely failed to prevent and contain it, there has been virtually no accountability for what happened.

As was clear at the time, holding those responsible accountable was always unlikely. They are still free today.

Zuma’s decision to campaign against the ANC may well raise fears of a recurrence of public violence.

Certainly, some senior leaders are concerned about this.

Last week, water and sanitation minister Senzo Mchunu said he was worried about security during the election. His concern is the new party supported by Zuma, uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK), was given the same name as the ANC’s armed wing, which may lead some to ask, “Who do we need to fight this time?”

There is a long history in our democratic dispensation of violence linked to politics; in particular, in KZN.

The political violence we have seen in the past can be divided into two distinct types: violence related to contestation for positions within parties, and violence between members of different parties.

Local elections have seen more incidents of violence involving members of the same party contesting for positions, which often involve the assassination of councillors.

The ANC and the IFP, primarily in KZN, have been involved in more incidents of this nature than other parties. That said, there have recently been several assassinations of councillors in the Eastern Cape.

At least one incident involved the killing of a DA councillor. This occurred in uMngeni in KZN.

Internal tensions within the ANC led to mayors’ bodyguards preparing to draw guns on each other during the run-up to the ANC’s 2017 conference.

Ramping up the rhetoric

The arrival of the EFF on the political scene ramped up the rhetoric and led to a higher chance of violence between members of opposing parties.

While EFF leader Julius Malema and some around him have used violent language, EFF members have frequently been the victims of violence, with force used against them when they were removed from Parliament on several occasions.

The worst period of inter-party violence occurred during the transition to democracy when the ANC and the IFP were involved in bloody disputes.

Thousands of people died during this period. However, after the 1994 elections, tensions eased between the two parties. It seems unlikely now, despite the contentious nature of this year’s elections, that there will be a repeat of this level of violence between them.

While Zuma has often been hailed as a “peacemaker” for his role during that time, he has a history of refusing to disavow violence committed in his name.

As long ago as 2005, his supporters threw stones and other objects at S’bu Ndebele for his support of the then President, Thabo Mbeki, after he fired Zuma as deputy president.

When Zuma’s presidency came under pressure in 2017, a group claiming to be “MK vets” intimidated the SACP’s second deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila. Zuma refused to condemn these acts committed in his name, despite being called on to do so by the then SACP general secretary, Blade Nzimande.

In 2021 he failed to condemn those whose violent actions caused at least 342 deaths and $3-billion in material destruction, despite his lawyers claiming the riots were a result of his being jailed.

If Zuma is unhappy with the result of this year’s election or gets less than the “two-thirds” he believes he “should” win, violence could be one way of expressing dissatisfaction.

However, there are important limits to how effective this would be.

Most South Africans abhor and fear violence and it is likely voters would vote against anyone thought to be using or contemplating using violence as a strategy.

It is possible that one reason the ANC did so poorly in eThekwini and elsewhere in KZN in the November 2021 local elections was that voters believed the party was responsible for the violence in July of that year.

Certainly, other parties, including the IFP, benefited, suggesting that voters were punishing the ANC for the deaths and damage.

Thus, if any party is now believed to be violent or planning violence, they will suffer at the polls.

It is certain that if there are incidents of violence there will be widely disseminated video evidence of them on TV, social networks and online, which will be seen by many voters. The knowledge of this may well prevent any large outbreaks of violence and deter people from using it as a political weapon.

Hopefully. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Someone, somewhere, needs to grow a pair and do the right thing to start the wheels of justice turning.
    Zuma and his acolytes can not be allowed to behave with such impunity in such an importsnt time in the country’s history.

  • Just Me says:

    If Jacob Zuma, the violence-monger, is exonerated over his direct involvement in the 2021 riots, the report will be a white wash.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Once a terrorist, always a terrorist

  • Coen Gous says:

    The report from the SAHRC was not only incomplete, but took almost three years. Yesterday the ANC suspended Zuma. Whilst this was expected, the combination of these two separate issues makes me believe you are spot on Stephen. This coming election is bound to become a violent one. There are simply too many things that are dividing citizens and potential voters. Another insurrection of some kind is likely.

  • Jeff Robinson says:

    There were undoubtedly instigators, orchestrators and/or “primary actors”, but they were only exploiting the predisposition of thousands and thousands to loot and pillage when the threat of punishment has by and large been removed. How many actual looters were brought to book. We all recall video footage of many such being caught in the act or for later being in possession of stolen loot. What happened to them? Without real consequences one would have to be a fool to expect anything but EVEN WORSE next time around.

  • Nick Robert says:

    Government cant accuse themselves…..There is no doubt, given the resources and planning that went into the riots, that high level officials were involved in this.

  • Pieter van de Venter says:

    And only old security and normal policemen of the SAP are prosecuted. The ANC used the necklace method in townships and Mandela himself, stopped the police from searching for AK47’s that was used to kill Zulus in from of Shell house. Violence is a standard tool in the toolbox of the ANC.

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