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Battle for KwaZulu-Natal — province’s political destiny hangs in the balance, but hope remains


Dr Imraan Buccus is a senior research associate at the Auwal Socio-economic Research Institute and a postdoctoral fellow at Durban University of Technology.

The road ahead for KZN is fraught with challenges and uncertainties, as competing forces vie for power and influence.

Mention KwaZulu-Natal politics and the immediate image is of blood flowing in the streets.

As South Africa gears up for the general election on 29 May, political turbulence and ethnic rivalries are again making the headlines. The King Dinuzulu anniversary celebrations on Saturday, 16 March had the ANC and IFP literally at each other’s throats, with current Zulu monarch King Misuzulu as a political football. That’s the ugly backdrop to what looks to be another fiercely contested electoral battle.

Moreover, the court case involving Jacob Zuma’s MK party adds another layer of complexity, raising well-founded concerns about the province’s political and social stability.

KwaZulu-Natal has long been a hotbed of riotous politics, characterised by deep-seated divisions and frequent outbreaks of violence. The province’s political landscape is shaped by a complex interplay of historical grievances, inter- and intra-ethnic fissures, and ideological power struggles.

Against this backdrop, the recent King Dinuzulu celebrations served as a rallying point for both the ANC and the IFP, highlighting the intense competition for control over the province’s political narrative and, significantly, the resources that flow from its legislature and municipalities.

The tensions between the ANC and IFP centre on vying for influence and support among the province’s predominantly Zulu population. The celebrations, which commemorate the legacy of King Dinuzulu kaCetshwayo, a revered figure in Zulu history and colonial resistance, ought to have been a time for reflection and unity. Last Saturday’s event was marred by political manoeuvring and accusations of interference. After the weekend’s opening round ended inconclusively, the second round has decisively gone to the IFP, with the king now banning the unsophisticated and bumbling KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Siboniso Duma from events.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

The ANC sought to use the provincial government-sponsored occasion to bolster its image and consolidate its support in the lead-up to the election. Meanwhile, the IFP mandarins, under the leadership of recently appointed Zulu traditional prime minister Thulasizwe Buthelezi, sought to assert its relevance through appropriating the monarch and challenging the ANC’s electoral majority in the province. The result was a tense standoff between the two parties, with each accusing the other of seeking to hijack the celebrations for political gain.

The continuing battles involving Zuma’s appropriation of the history and livery of Umkhonto weSizwe threaten to further destabilise the province. Zuma remains a polarising figure in KZN, with a devoted support base, and also faces widespread criticism and condemnation.

The stakes are not just political; they are also deeply intertwined with the province’s social fabric. Its history of political violence dates to the apartheid era and continues into the democratic era. The province’s complex mix of ethnic rivalries and political allegiances has often erupted into bloodshed, leaving scars that linger today.

The prospect of renewed violence looms large over KZN, particularly in the run-up to a closely contested election. The ANC and IFP have a fraught history of conflict. Though both parties have publicly committed to peaceful and democratic means of resolving their differences, the spectre of violence remains a constant threat, especially in the heat of an election campaign.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC and IFP’s fierce battle for votes in Zulu heartland could become ‘killing talk’

Against this fractious tableau of political tension and social volatility there are glimmers of hope for a peaceful and stable future. Civil society organisations, community leaders and ordinary citizens are working in the background to promote dialogue, reconciliation and nonviolent conflict resolution. Shuttle diplomacy initiatives aimed at fostering inter-party cooperation and building trust between rival factions are hopefully gaining momentum, offering a ray of hope on an otherwise bleak landscape.

Ultimately, the road ahead for KZN is fraught with challenges and uncertainties. Its political destiny hangs in the balance as competing forces vie for power and influence. The outcome of the 29 May election and the political resolution of legal challenges involving Zuma’s MK party will shape the province’s political landscape for generations to come.

Amid the turmoil and uncertainty, one thing remains clear: The people of KZN have demonstrated an uncanny determination to overcome adversity and find common ground, however tenuous. DM


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  • ST ST says:

    There is a real danger of prejudice against Zulus. You can already hear it in the comments sections. One would do well to remember that there’s more to Zulus than violence. One section of the tribe doesn’t speak for all. The very fact that parties all origins are fighting for the KZN vote is an indication of its diversity. Even Pappas has made his mark there. Hopefully reason prevails. Not all Zulus are MK or killers or…

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