Jacob Zuma’s MP, the political joker in South Africa’s elections

by MMC
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  • By Farouk Chothia
  • BBC News, Johannesburg

Image source, Getty Images

Despite being a disgraced former president who was sent to prison, Jacob Zuma is proving to be a political wild card in South Africa’s election campaign.

This follows his dramatic decision to abandon the ruling African National Congress (ANC) for the newly formed party uMkhonto we Sizwe, which means Spear of the Nation.

The 81-year-old is campaigning for the May 29 general election, calling on people to turn their backs on the ANC led by his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“Zuma, as always, is playing a mischievous role,” political analyst Richard Calland told the BBC.

“He doesn’t want power, but influence within the ANC. He wants to dethrone Ramaphosa for a more flexible leader,” he said.

The two most recent opinion polls suggest Mr Zuma’s party – known by the acronym MK – is having a huge impact, gaining around 13% of the national vote and 25% in the former president’s political heartland, KwaZulu-Natal.

But Angelo Fick, research director at the Auwal Institute for Socio-Economic Research in Johannesburg, believes the party will get fewer votes, particularly in the vote for the national parliament.

“I’ll be surprised if he gets 6%,” he told the BBC.

Image source, Getty Images


Named after the former armed wing of the ANC, the MK party hopes to retain the balance of power by the end of May

To support his point, he cited the performance of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in the first election they participated in after the expulsion of ANC youth leader Julius Malema, who formed the party.

Mr. Malema integrated a large part of the ANC’s youth into the EFF, but the party obtained only 6% of the national vote in 2014 and 11% in 2019.

“The MK party is not as organized in 2024 as the EFF was in 2014,” Mr Fick said.

Professor Calland said Mr Zuma was key to the party getting votes.

“He has a certain charisma and populist appeal. He still enjoys a certain loyalty and credibility, particularly among the people of KwaZulu-Natal,” he added.

The MK party hopes to retain the balance of power, especially as various opinion polls suggest the ANC could lose its absolute majority in the national parliament for the first time since its election at the end of white minority rule there. thirty years ago.

“Once we enter minority government territory, every percentage counts. If the MK party gets 3%, that could be the difference between the ANC getting 48% and 51%,” Professor Calland said .

Paddy Harper, correspondent for the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian in KwaZulu-Natal, said the ANC “was potentially at its weakest in the province, and it would be a major blow to the party if it lost the control of the provincial government.

“When Zuma was a member of the ANC, KwaZulu-Natal became the party’s largest and most influential province. This helped the ANC cross the 50% mark in every national election since 2004,” he said. he told the BBC.

The ANC initially ignored the creation of the MK party, but after Mr. Zuma threw his support behind the party in December, the party took legal action in the Electoral Court to deregister it and l prevent him from showing up.

He also wants the High Court to ban him from using the MK name, arguing that the ANC owns the copyright.

The battle over the name is crucial because MK refers to the now-defunct armed wing of the ANC that Nelson Mandela launched in 1961 to fight the racist apartheid system.

It therefore carries deep political symbolism, with the ANC determined to prevent Mr Zuma – who joined the ANC’s armed struggle as a teenager – from claiming to be its heir.


Deadly riots erupt in South Africa after Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment in 2021

In a widely circulated video earlier this month, a senior MK party official, Visvin Reddy, warned that there would be “anarchy” if the party was blocked from contesting elections.

The party spokesperson distanced MK from Mr Reddy’s comments, but similar comments were made on Wednesday by the party’s youth leader, Bonginkosi Khanyile.

“If they remove the MP and President Zuma as the face of the campaign and try to take away our rights, there will be no elections in South Africa,” he said. declared.

Another dispute rages over whether Mr Zuma is eligible to sit as a lawmaker, as he was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2021, for refusing to cooperate in a judge-led investigation into corruption during his tenure. nine-year presidency.

Mr. Zuma also faces 16 charges of corruption in a multibillion-dollar arms deal, in a case that has dragged on for years as the former president challenges prosecutorial attempts to bring him to trial. justice.

The MK party has placed Mr Zuma at the top of its list of parliamentary candidates, despite the Independent Electoral Commission emphasizing in January that his conviction disqualified him.

Mr Harper said he expected Mr Zuma to remain the public face of the MK party’s campaign – even if he is banned from running in the parliamentary elections.

“This will only help Zuma escalate things and give him another reason to claim he is the victim of a political conspiracy,” he said.

Mr Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, has also been nominated as a parliamentary candidate by the MK party, suggesting that the former president views her as his political heir and guardian of his legacy.

Image source, Getty Images


Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, pictured here next to her father in court last May, is an MP candidate

“Let it burn,” she wrote, as buildings and vehicles were set on fire, in violence that President Ramaphosa described as an attempt to stage an “insurrection”.

In December, it was she who read a statement on behalf of her father announcing that he had given his support to the MK party.

The statement called Mr Ramaphosa a “proxy” for “white capitalist interests” and said voting for the ANC would lead to a government “of traitors and collaborators of apartheid”.

This shows Mr Zuma’s deep political animosity towards Mr Ramaphosa.

Many South Africans hope this will not lead to a new wave of violence, as the two men face off in the elections.

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