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2024 ELECTIONS ANALYSIS

The mixed forces behind Zuma’s MK party – fed up ANC members, taxi industry, tenderpreneurs, ex-fighters

The mixed forces behind Zuma’s MK party –  fed up ANC members, taxi industry, tenderpreneurs, ex-fighters
Former South African President Jacob Zuma gestures after voting during the South African elections, in Nkandla, South Africa. 29 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters/Rogan Ward)

Jacob Zuma’s MK party emerged from virtually nowhere and in a short time managed to convince a sizeable proportion of South Africans to support them. Nationally, the renegade party achieved 14.5% of the vote, and 45.9% in KwaZulu-Natal. Where does this support come from, and what are the components of the party?

Zuma and his family

Daily Maverick spoke to a number of people who confirmed that former president Jacob Zuma is the Strong or Big Man of uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) and all major decisions need a nod of approval from him, while he runs the party as if it were his fiefdom.

According to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, those who think Zuma is nothing but a spiritual leader of the MK party are wrong. “He is active and knows what is going on in all the activities of the MK party and he is able to put his foot down, if he sees fit.”

MK founder Jabulani Khumalo claimed that Zuma personally expelled him without due process and he has challenged this decision in the Electoral Court. A ruling is pending.

Khumalo said Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, is the eyes and ears of her father and “she has leadership ambitions of her own. She even fabricated lies about anyone who is seen as a threat to the Zuma dynasty. She is very rude”, he told Daily Maverick.

Duduzile_factcheck_Rebecca, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla

Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, daughter of former president Jacob Zuma and member of the MK party, at the IEC Results Operation Centre in Midrand. 30 May 2024. (Photo: Alet Pretorius)

“Duduzile and a coterie of her friends were treating me like a stooge, while they took all the major decisions. I often fought back, hard. This is because I did not form and register the MK party to be a family dynasty. I formed the party because I wanted the people of the country to obtain economic and social freedom, to be led by a competent and dedicated leadership, grounded in the communities. Duduzile is very rude and when she did not get her way, she whispered lies to her father about me. Unfortunately, he believed her and took her side without even asking my side of the story or verifying facts.”

There are signs that the party is a vehicle for Zuma to achieve his political goals, including quashing the many charges that he is facing or could face in the future, through a political solution. 

Disgruntled ANC supporters

These are the people on the ground whose vote ensured MK received more than two million votes in the recent elections. They are unhappy with the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa and the direction the ANC has taken since he came into power. 

Some want to punish the ANC leadership for corruption, arrogance, nepotism and, more importantly, service delivery failures.

They are, it is claimed, mainly disgruntled ANC supporters who were part of the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction within the party.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Silent MK voters were from the ANC — Duduzile Zuma 

The majority of them are Zulu speakers – among whom Zuma has a huge appeal – which feeds the narrative that the MK party is nothing but the “ANC yamaZulu” or the ANC of the Zulu speakers, a party that trades in ethnic mobilisation.

Some MK supporters previously supported parties like the IFP and the EFF, and were attracted by Zuma and MK’s radical stance on the economy and other issues. 

Many are jobless, skilled or unskilled young people angered by repeated ANC promises regarding the economy, service delivery failures, gatekeeping within the party, and corruption in the three spheres of government.

They now hope the MK party will deliver on its promises once it comes to power. 

The MK fighters

These are ex-combatants and their families who returned from exile, as well as those who were trained inside South Africa in the 1960s and 1990s. 

These are the people who hold senior positions in regions and provinces, and they trust Zuma to fight for their cause.

Many of them have been complaining throughout the 30 years of ANC rule – even during Zuma’s so-called nine wasted years – that their plight has not been catered for. They say that while the ANC leadership enjoys the good life they are languishing in poverty. In some places, such as Pietermaritzburg and Durban, they have taken matters into their own hands, illegally occupying RDP houses. In some cases the government has relented and allowed them to stay in them. Some are renting out occupied houses and flats or have installed family members in them.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ulundi squatters who hijacked state-owned houses 20 years ago given an ultimatum: move out or else

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dispute over the occupation of RDP houses

Some of them have joined the ranks of tenderpreneurs, allegedly demanding tenders from municipalities controlled by the ANC.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Dons have KZN in their grip — and Don of Dons Jacob Zuma has the tightest grip 

They have been a vocal and coherent structure within the ANC, and KZN have been leading the party’s RET faction. They know the ANC inside and out, its strengths and weaknesses, and are said to be the key drivers in turning the party’s branches against its leadership. They were part of secret meetings and other gatherings that prepared the ground for the launch of the MK, and some were allegedly involved in the July 2021 looting and mayhem in KZN and Gauteng.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How the community that formed around the alleged RET ‘Guptabots’ migrated overnight to Zuma’s MK party 

As part of the underground movement within the ANC, they were kept in the loop about the formation of MK and were not surprised when Zuma announced, on 16 December 2023, that he is ditching the ANC of Ramaphosa and would campaign for and vote for the MK party.

Former president Jacob Zuma addressing a rally  over a  court case in respect of the MK Party trademark which was heard at Durban High Court on March 27, 2024 in Durban. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

According to Khumalo, some of these people are trusted lieutenants of Zuma. 

“Some of these comrades were defying me openly, saying they cannot be led by someone who has not been in trenches, someone who has not been in exile, someone who had not fought a revolutionary war. I first told these comrades that I don’t like what they were saying and they must stop it. I once warned Zuma about members of this group, but he said he trusts them because he had worked with them for many years.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How Zuma’s MK party ruthlessly outmanoeuvred the ANC in KZN

“When I complained about these people and their tendencies of dividing the MK party, Zuma did not take notice. The situation escalated to the point where they were telling him wrong things about us, sometimes fabricating stories. Unfortunately, he accepted their words and started seeing us as the enemy within, when it is them who are driving the wedge within the organisation.”

The tenderpreneurs

In the years of ANC government control, people who have come to be known as tenderpreneurs have fed on government tenders and if they don’t get their way they are ready to use violence.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Taxi bosses, construction mafia and political murder: The violence entrepreneurs challenging business and the state

The oft-told narrative is that this group’s main gripe is that its members have been sidelined by current ANC leaders who are “eating alone”. Some of them wish for the return of the good old days of Zuma, when tenders rained to them from various government sources, mainly ANC-controlled municipalities. Their wealth and influence have diminished in the post-Zuma era, but they might be hoping that, with the rise of MK, the good old days will return.

The taxi owners

The taxi industry in KZN, especially the most lucrative routes, are controlled by the Gcaba brothers or people closely associated with them – a group that allegedly stamps its authority with a combination of threats, violence and assassinations.

The Gcaba brothers are blood relatives and close supporters of Zuma. They are in control of some of the big tenders in the province, including  a multimillion-rand bus tender in the eThekwini Municipality.

The construction mafia

This group is also known as the “30% guys” who visit construction sites – from small road projects to large, nationally funded projects, malls and other developments – to demand a slice of the contract, often without doing anything. They use the latest government legislation which stipulates that 30% of all public sector projects must be awarded to local businesses and contractors.

Some members of this group are allegedly former uMkhonto weSizwe combatants who have licenced and illegal firearms and ammunition, ready to unleash violence or threat of violence against those who stand in their way. Many projects have, as a result, come to a halt until the demands of this group have been met.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Murderous construction mafias have brought many companies to their knees – with SAPS help, the fightback has started

A member of this group, who asked not to be named, said: “We cannot sit by and allow other people and other races, enjoying the economy of our country while we are languishing in poverty. First we warn those who are working on site that they must give us something or everything will come to a standstill. If they listen, we negotiate terms and conditions. If they refuse all hell breaks loose.”

Many executives whose projects had been hijacked by this group recall frightening incidents. Some executives said they were held to ransom and were forced to compromise.

Party hoppers

MK, like any other party, has attracted many opportunistic politicians who are jumping from one party to another, seeking positions or opportunities, watching which way the political winds are blowing.

Zuma has had to warn on several occasions that there are people who are power hungry, who came to the party seeking positions.

The MK Party Lists 

The MK Party was compelled by the IEC to send a list of people who will represent it in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

Thus, the list seems to be hastily put together and some candidates have already fallen out of favour with the leadership of the party. The list is likely to change due to litigation and other factors.

MK founding leader Jabulani Khumalo, for example, is listed as number one to headline the list of people heading for the National Assembly.

MK party founder Jabulani Khumalo. (Photo: Gallo Images)

Khumalo was first compelled to write a letter to the IEC relinquishing the MK Party presidency to Zuma. From there on, he was expelled by Zuma after being accused of “acting presidential, complete with a group of bodyguards and convoys” and receiving gifts, money and cars from some ANC leaders.

Khumalo insists that he is headed for the National Assembly,  but the MK Party and, most importantly, the IEC, has informed him that he is not eligible for being an MPL on the MK ticket.

Visvin Reddy, who is sixth on the MK Party list for the National Assembly, could be disqualified as he is facing charges of inciting violence and a potential R200,000 fine. This comes after he allegedly told a gathering in KZN that there would be violence if the former president Zuma and MK Party were not allowed to participate in the elections.

Mandla Gcaba, leader of the Gcaba Brothers taxis and business empire, was not on the party list but in the wake of the elections, he has been touted in some circles as a potential candidate for the KZN legislature and even as Zuma’s preferred candidate for premier. However, this speculation seems to have fallen off the radar due to his inexperience in government. 

Another person who was touted as a potential MK Party KZN Premier candidate is Nhlanhla Ngidi, the former KZN director-general in the ANC-administered KZN government. He announced that he had joined the MK Party early this year but was removed as KZN provincial co ordinator of the party in April after being accused of being an ANC spy but his name could not be removed from the list. As a result, his name still tops the provincial list for the KZN legislature and it is not clear whether his name would still be removed when and if the party decides to take part in the legislatures.

Also, there are many within MK structures who are not happy with the composition of the list and were keen to challenge it and remove those whom they say do not suit the bill.  DM

Information sourced from MK party leaders and members, former MK combatants and other sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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