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2024 ELECTIONS

As ANC opens door to GNU talks, KZN on tenterhooks after Zuma’s MK party sweeps polls

As ANC opens door to GNU talks, KZN on tenterhooks after Zuma’s MK party sweeps polls
Former president Jacob Zuma and current leader of the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party at the IEC National Results Operations Centre at Gallagher Estate on 1 June in Midrand, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

While the rest of the country is more concerned with a possible government of national unity, KwaZulu-Natal is in a state of tension as Jacob Zuma’s MK party is accused of spoiling for a fight.

As the ANC opened the door to negotiations about a government of national unity (GNU), the vortex around Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party continued to gain momentum. KwaZulu-Natal is on tenterhooks and security forces are on high alert.

Political parties, haggling over a deal for peace and stability, fear that the victorious MK party will make for an uncomfortable bedfellow. This has led to lobbying to either keep it out of government or ensure it is in, reducing its power to disrupt.

This week, after MK swept the polls in KwaZulu-Natal, winning 45% of the votes, some of Zuma’s former ANC comrades energetically urged for a deal to squash MK, whereas others vigorously opposed a touted alliance with the IFP, the DA and the National Freedom Party (NFP).

But late on Thursday, the ANC’s National Executive Committee called for an inclusive GNU akin to the one led by Nelson Mandela after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

“This moment also calls for multiparty cooperation and multi-stakeholder collaboration,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In what some saw as a veiled reference to his nemesis, the president added that the ANC sought to unite the broadest range of social forces to “isolate those that seek to cause chaos, instability and division”.

Ramaphosa said fears of instability, polarisation and disruption could be countered by an inclusive, cooperative approach to governance. He called for agreements between parties to be in writing to hold them accountable, adding this would inform the ANC’s approach to how provincial governments are formed.

“From the results of these elections, it is clear that South Africans expect their leaders to work together to meet their needs. They expect us to find common ground, to overcome our differences, and to act and work together for the good of everyone.”

How that will play out in the next week and a half ahead of the 16 June deadline for Parliament to be installed remains to be seen, especially given the animosity between Ramaphosa and Zuma and the massive policy divergence of potential partners in a GNU.

The most significant test for tolerance will be in KwaZulu-Natal. Of the 80 seats in the legislature, 37 are destined for MK members. The ANC has 15, the IFP 14, the DA 11, the EFF two and the NFP one.

Political party negotiations take place against the backdrop of tensions in KwaZulu-Natal. National police commissioner General Fannie Masemola announced the deployment of hundreds more members to the province. MK, in turn, expressed distress about the murder of one of its members.

The new MK Party’s slogan #Mayibuye and its green, gold and black colours share the ruling ANC’s own branding. (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

An MK party 2024 election poster. (Photo: Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images)

Though MK members adamantly deny it, opponents and analysts fear that it is spoiling for a fight and a repeat of the bloody July 2021 riots that claimed 354 lives. They were sparked by Zuma’s incarceration after the Constitutional Court found him guilty of contempt for refusing to testify at the Zondo Commission about corruption during his presidency.

MK

uMkhonto Wesizwe party founder Jabulani Khumalo (centre) outside the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Johannesburg on 26 May. Khumalo and four other MK party members were expelled from the party on 26 April. (Photo: Papi Morake / Gallo Images)

This week, addressing supporters outside the Gauteng Division of the High Court in Johannesburg, Zuma threatened that MK would lay charges against the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) over the results after untested claims of vote-rigging. He reiterated earlier warnings that MK should not be “provoked”, his comments echoing the bellicosity of the party’s members ahead of the poll.

Zuma’s appearance in court was unrelated to the IEC. Instead, it was to deal with a legal challenge by Jabulani Khumalo, who founded MK but was expelled from the party on the eve of the elections.

Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla. (Photo: Gallo Images)

In court, Khumalo accused Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, of forging his signature in a resignation letter, which the party hotly denied. Outside court, Khumalo was chased away by an MK mob.

Khumalo’s claims coincide with growing criticism of the party’s leadership, internal mutterings about the Zuma family’s power over the party, and uncertainty about who will lead MK in Parliament and the KwaZulu-Natal legislature.

ANC members and MK insiders said this week that the people on MK’s parliamentary lists are “unknowns” and ANC “runners” (former branch-level organisers).

ANC support for, as well as hostility towards, Zuma spilt out when heavyweights alternatively urged the party to embrace or spurn him.

Former Cabinet minister Lindiwe Sisulu. (Photo: Sharon Seretlo / Gallo Images)

Former Cabinet ministers Zweli Mkhize and Lindiwe Sisulu argued for an ANC coalition that includes MK. At the same time, ANC veteran Siphiwe Nyanda criticised the prospect, saying Zuma’s presidency was characterised by State Capture.

Sisulu argued for a “black pact” instead of an ANC-DA coalition, and Mkhize warned the latter could lead to a state of ungovernability where “communities can easily revolt”.

An ANC source was wary of the prospects of a peaceful deal. “It’s tricky. Zuma is playing hardball. Any marriage will be unstable. Zweli makes some good points, but on the WhatsApp groups people already say he and Zandile [Gumede, former ANC eThekwini mayor] helped MK get where it is now. It will be a rocky road.”

Late on Thursday, MK said it would meet the ANC with an open mind “while firmly prioritising the inspirations and aspirations of the South African majority and blacks in particular”.

The DA’s leader in KwaZulu-Natal, Francois Rogers, said earlier indications were that the ANC favoured a DA-IFP-NFP deal.

“KZN has an 80-member legislature. If we have an IFP, DA and NFP coalition at 41 seats, we can form a government because MK has 37 seats and the EFF has two.

“The problem is, will any ANC MPLs [members of the provincial legislature] vote for an MK premier in a secret ballot? In the awful event that MK can form a government, what can you expect from a party of spoilers? Chaos is their game.”

uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party leader Jacob Zuma at the IEC National Results Operations Centre at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on 1 June. (Photo: Sharon Seretlo / Gallo Images)

KwaZulu-Natal-based political analyst Dr Imraan Buccus said the election results could mark the end of Zuma’s political career rather than a second wind.

“Personality cults tend to be short-lived. While charismatic figures like Zuma can capture the public imagination, their influence often wanes.”

Fellow analyst Dr Richard Pithouse said MK is driven by “a violent, destructive and predatory elite centred on the charisma of a leader with extreme right-wing positions on social issues”. But, with more than 2 million votes, MK would determine the character of KwaZulu-Natal politics.

Security experts, police and crime intelligence sources are divided on the prospects of violence and unrest. A police colonel told Daily Maverick: “All SAPS members are working shifts – 12 hours on and 12 hours off. But things are quiet. We don’t know if there is going to be trouble.”

Another officer said: “We have been ordered to be ready for anything.”

A state intelligence officer said all eyes were on KwaZulu-Natal because of the prospect of unrest and road closures. He said social media was being carefully monitored because it was used to great effect in 2021. “We are watching everything: townships, freeways and hotspots,” he said.

Also on their radar, the intelligence officer said, is an MK paramilitary group. Some of its members have been stationed outside Zuma’s home in Nkandla since 2021.

Members of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) at the entrance to the Zuma homestead in Nkandla on 1 July 2021. (Photo: Darren Stewart / Gallo Images)

A private security boss said: “I don’t think anyone has any idea of what’s going to happen. Everyone is waiting. Unfortunately, security companies scaremonger [sic] by talking up the panic as a ruse to take the piss with billing.”

Independent policing expert Dr Johan Burger cautioned against inflating threats or ignoring them. “People are fearful because of the 2021 instability. People were killed, and there was widespread looting and destruction. Now the same people are using threatening language about what might happen if things don’t go their way.

“Zuma is walking a fine line here. A small fire ignited in a big bush can spread quickly.

“Having said that, I don’t think you can compare 2021 to now. Back then, the police and intelligence services were ill-prepared. Now we have a new police commissioner. General Masemola has strong operational experience. He is in control. He says he is getting intelligence from KwaZulu-Natal and can act immediately.”

Some MK members that Daily Maverick spoke to expressed contempt at the threat of violence, repeating the sentiments of an MK statement this week that said thugs in party regalia were depicting MK as warmongers. “Our commitment to peace and democratic principles remains steadfast.”

Carlo Stegen, an MK supporter and farmer in KwaZulu-Natal, said members send daily messages encouraging tolerance on party WhatsApp groups.

“We won’t resort to any kind of violence or bloodshed. I get persecuted by most white people who can’t believe I support Msholozi. The veil hasn’t lifted from their eyes. White Monopoly Capital runs this country.

“People fear land expropriation without compensation, but MK won’t just take your land if you create employment, pay taxes and invest back. I am not naive. I work with the poor while people who are supposed to represent them live in excess and gluttony. MK is the first glimpse of hope.”

Party critics disagree and point to suspicion about MK because of uncertainty about its economic plans, who its funders are, the low public profile of members on the parliamentary list, and internal rumblings about a cabal centred on Zuma and Zuma-Sambudla.

Former KwaZulu-Natal provincial government director-general Nhlanhla Ngidi, who was MK’s coordinator in KwaZulu-Natal for three months until he was removed, is number one on the party’s list for Parliament. He was regarded by some as its premier elect.

He left the ANC to join MK, but got the boot after rumours he was an ANC spy, which he vehemently denied. He said  repeated attempts to get clarity on the matter proved fruitless. Asked whether he still expected to take up his seat, Ngidi said: “Yes. I am number one on the list. But I don’t know why I was removed and this is not down to a lack of trying to find out.”

Law professor Jaap de Visser said an MP who loses his or her party membership loses their seat, and a party can reshuffle its list to fill the vacancy.

It remains unclear whether MK updated its list after expelling Khumalo. He told Daily Maverick he was living in fear for his life, but is determined to wrest back control of a party envisioned as democratic, not “an autocratic one or a Zuma dynasty”.

He criticised Zuma-Sambudla and her “leadership ambitions”.

Khumalo’s comments echoed those of an MK source who described Zuma-Sambudla’s utterances about the party’s plans after the election results were announced as “embarrassing”.

“She has no political experience and she’s in deep water. But she commands big power and that is a dangerous combination.”

The source was critical of MK leaders of “doubtful repute who have attached themselves to the bandwagon for their gain”.

Members of the disbanded Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association (MKMVA) at Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead. (Photo: Sandile Ndlovu)

MK leaders, he said, are a mix of aggrieved ANC members, tenderpreneurs with links to construction mafias, Umkhonto weSizwe military veterans and Zuma family members.

“You must be careful of people creating a laager around Zuma. Unfortunately, despite being a brilliant strategist, he has adopted a siege mentality, and he cannot distinguish between the mistakes of his friends and the machinations of his enemies.”

ANC members allege that MK’s inside circle includes tenderpreneurs who go around KwaZulu-Natal threatening officials and invoking Zuma’s name, the ANC’s Radical Economic Transformation faction and forces behind the 2021 riots. They also claim the group includes taxi bosses and members of the construction mafias.

An MK source, who is part of a construction mafia group, told Daily Maverick that he and his colleagues have guns and are unafraid of violence. “We cannot sit by and allow other people and other races to enjoy the economy of our country while we are languishing in poverty.”

Among the reasons cited for Khumalo’s expulsion, MK accused him of receiving money, gifts, luxury vehicles and even properties from the ANC to destroy MK from within, but he said there was no evidence of this. Khumalo scotched rumours about MK being funded by the Guptas and Russians.

“As far as I know, the MK party has no money. There is a member of the Zuma family, whose name I will not mention, who put a lot of money and other resources into the MK party.”

Khumalo said he is a co-signatory of the party’s bank accounts and “the last time I checked, it was empty”.

Khumalo vowed to continue his fight for MK despite his life being in danger.

“I will not give up this fight. If Zuma or anyone else thinks they can run the MK party like a family fiefdom or dynasty, they will divide and kill the party, together with the aspirations of the people who voted and supported it.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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