South Africa


Zuma’s attack on SA democracy — will MK take up its seats in Parliament and KZN?

Zuma’s attack on SA democracy — will MK take up its seats in Parliament and KZN?
Illustrative image | Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa logo. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | uMkhonto Wesizwe party members (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi) | uMkhonto Wesizwe leader Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Michele Spatari / AFP)

Recent comments by the MK leader, former president Jacob Zuma, that his party won the elections, may well indicate his future strategy. It is clear he is playing for the longer term, which raises questions about whether MK’s representatives will take their seats in the National Assembly and the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

On Monday, speaking outside an Electoral Court case in Johannesburg around the leadership of uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK), the MK leader, former president Jacob Zuma, told his supporters (as reported by News24): 

“They are provoking us. We haven’t left this matter alone. We are going to walk slowly with them. We are the smartest in South Africa… We won’t back down.”

He also said: 

“We don’t want people to die. We want to show them [the Electoral Commission] that we are South Africans. We will correct them… We are number one. We produced big votes. We are silently working on this matter. We have won these elections. We want to rule this country how we want.”

As is his consistent pattern, he has given zero evidence of his claims. And, insofar as is known, his party has offered equally zero evidence of this as part of what is their expected legal challenge to the outcome of the elections.

Zuma is daring the 85% of voters who did not cast their ballots in his favour.

But this is rather about creating a pretext to keep telling his constituency that they were robbed, that MK is being stopped in its quest to “rule this country how we want”. 

The big question is: What will he do next?

First, amid debates within media organisations about whether his comments should be broadcast live, or reported at all, there is one simple point to make: It would be dangerous to ignore Zuma and his utterances, no matter how divorced from reality the whole charade is.

While it is true that, not unlike Donald Trump, Zuma uses media platforms to spread lies, it is also true that people will be shocked if certain events happen because they weren’t told what he was saying.

Unfortunately for South Africa, Zuma has propelled himself into the most important story of these dangerous times.


Second, is the question: What is his real long-term goal?

In the hours after the election, as it emerged the ANC had fallen to around 40%, his ambition seemed obvious; the point was to go into government in KZN and into Parliament. Once there, be as disruptive as possible, wash, rinse, repeat.

However, after consistent claims by Zuma, as unfounded (to put it in the mildest possible terms) as they are, that MK won the election, the aim certainly seems different.

Chaos, it appears, is the point.

If MK members take their seats in the National Assembly and the KZN legislature, that would mean they accept the results of the election. It would make it much harder for Zuma to keep disputing the outcome.

To remain outside these bodies, to essentially boycott their sessions, would work towards the longer-term cause. To claim the election result was not legitimate is to attack South Africa’s democracy.

It will not be surprising if MK members do not take up their seats in Parliament and the provincial legislature.

In the National Assembly, this will not prevent the election of a president. Without MK’s MPs there will still be a quorum, and depending on how the voting process goes, Cyril Ramaphosa could legitimately be elected President.

However, it’s a different story in KZN.

MK members make up nearly half of the legislature, with 37 of the 80 seats. To try to hold a vote for a premier candidate in a half-empty room could look suspect, even if the fine print of the law allowed it (this has never been tested).

If Zuma chooses this direction, his longer-term goal would be obvious: not to get elected in a democratic process, but to end South Africa’s democracy itself.

While Zuma has said he does not want his supporters to engage in violence, the language that he uses, the consistent claim that he and others are being “provoked”, points directly to violent action against opponents as it puts an onus on SA democratic institutions to obey, or else. It is a textbook example of a populist firebrand’s rhetoric.

The moment of real danger may not come over the next two weeks, but in the days just after Ramaphosa is elected President or the KZN legislature holds its first meeting (if it does that without MK).


This could be the moment of the highest tension, as Zuma is likely to ratchet up his claims by denying the national and provincial governments’ mandates to run the institutions of state. 

That said, there are limitations to this strategy.

While very little is known about how MK selected its candidates (the party says Zuma chose them because Zuma makes every decision in the party), some may wish to take their seats.

If they are ordered not to take them, they would be denying themselves the salary and other benefits they are expecting from those positions. 

This could lead to defiance. 

Already, Jabulani Khumalo, the man Zuma claimed was his “brother”, whom he entrusted to start the party, has turned away from him. (Monday’s court case was to hear Khumalo’s application to the Electoral Court that Zuma had illegally removed him as leader.) 

In the past few weeks, MK’s media WhatsApp group has published several statements indicating that certain people are being removed from their positions. No reasons are ever given and no explanation of who made the decision is ever offered.

Meanwhile, the party’s secretary-general, Sihle Ngubane, has said publicly that Zuma makes all the party’s decisions because it is all about Zuma.

It would be difficult to believe that a large number of people would accept every single decision made by one person over a long period — particularly if those decisions hurt their interests.

In the final analysis, the major problem is simple: Zuma appears to be threatening violence, people have already committed violence in his name, and he has never disavowed them for doing so.

This is why he must be taken so seriously. DM


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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