Will Jacob Zuma and his MK party be able to overthrow the ANC in South Africa’s elections? | Policy

by MMC
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KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa – “We need change and we need change now,” said Princess Nozwe Zulu, sitting in her home in a public housing complex in Savannah Park, 11 miles west of the southern port city. Africa of Durban.

“Black people cannot remain slaves in their own country forever… that is why we are voting for the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party to lead this change,” said the 51-year-old, recently declaring her support for the new generic political party. approved by controversial former president Jacob Zuma.

Zulu is not only an ordinary voter, but also a long-time activist who served as a municipal councilor for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) between 2011 and 2016.

But in recent months she has switched sides, now devoting her time and resources to wooing potential voters in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Zuma’s home province, to vote for MK, which stands for Spear of the Nation. .

“I had warned my comrades in the ANC that if we continue to demonstrate arrogance, corruption and lack of accountability, we will lose popular support,” she said. “They didn’t listen, and look, that’s exactly what’s happening right now.”

Supporters of umkhonto weSizwe, a party gaining ground ahead of South Africa’s elections in May (File: Rogan Ward/Reuters)

South Africans will go to the polls on May 29 in crucial elections for the ANC, which has been in power since the country’s first post-apartheid elections 30 years ago. Considered the party that liberated South Africa from apartheid, the ANC has recently lost support, with polls predicting it could fall below 50 percent of the vote for the first time. If it fails to secure a majority, opposition parties could unite to dethrone the ANC.

The MP’s rapid rise since his birth last year could, in particular, hurt the ANC in KZN, South Africa’s second most populous province, where polls suggest the Zuma-backed party could become the big winner of the next elections.

Exploiting Zuma’s popularity

Formed in early 2023, MK rose to prominence in December when Zuma announced he would support them instead of the ANC – the party through which he became president twice.

The MP is now exploiting Zuma’s popularity to gain more supporters, while benefiting from the resentment of an electorate fed up with government corruption, high levels of violent crime, power outages known locally as load shedding, increasing shortage of running water and unemployment. and poverty under 30 years of ANC rule.

In turning away from the ANC, Zuma said his conscience could not allow him to vote for a party that had become a “sellout” and that he would ensure the MP gained enough support to win and change the country’s constitution in the interests of the ANC. the black majority in difficulty.

South Africa’s constitution is considered one of the most progressive in the world and is among the most cited by the highest courts in the world. However, Zuma and MK argue it is inspired by Western laws and is not representative of the people.

“We need to review our constitution because it does not benefit us as black people,” Zulu told Al Jazeera, echoing the view that the constitution has made it difficult for many black South Africans to join. rising after colonialism, apartheid and racial economic repression.

Zuma is an enigmatic political figure well-liked within the Zulu community, South Africa’s largest ethnic group, to which he belongs.

His popularity persists even though his path to political power has been paved with countless controversies. He was removed as the country’s vice president in 2005 after his close aide was convicted of corruption, including paying bribes to Zuma. The same year, he was charged with rape, but was later acquitted. Also in 2005, he was charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering.

Despite these difficulties, Zuma still managed to get elected leader of the ANC in 2007 and president of South Africa in 2009 and 2014.

While in power, he was again implicated in corruption allegations and accusations related to the looting of public funds. And after being expelled in 2018, he refused to participate in a commission of inquiry into corruption, even after being summoned.

He was sentenced to 15 months in prison and when police picked him up from his home in July 2021, parts of South Africa erupted into a week-long frenzy of violence and looting, leading to the deaths of more than 350 people and enormous losses for the population. the economy.

Nine lost years

Critics view Zuma’s tenure as “nine wasted years”, during which the economy collapsed and fraud and corruption became endemic.

But he is back in the political spotlight with the MP, although the South African Electoral Commission announced last month that he was not eligible for elections due to the contempt of court conviction – a decision the MP has since appealed.

Despite his many criticisms, those who support Zuma are often happy to follow the former president’s lead.

Zulu, for her part, said she took inspiration from Zuma and abandoned the ANC when he announced he would support the MP. She is now firmly anchored in the new party.

But she says she was disappointed with the ANC even before that, denouncing corruption and a lack of benefits for black South Africans.

When asked why Zuma had not improved things during his two terms as president, Zulu said that even as president, “Zuma was prevented from touching white privilege by the same constitution which is praised by the West”, adding that changing the constitution would “guarantee”. may the minerals and wealth of this country benefit us.”

The uMkhonto weSizwe party wants to change South Africa’s constitution if it wins the election (File: Rogan Ward/Reuters)

As a businesswoman, Zulu admitted to previously benefiting from state tenders under the ANC, although she refused to disclose the nature of the contracts she was awarded. Like her, many others who benefited from Zuma’s mandate may not have benefited later.

“A lot of people were getting government contracts during the Zuma era and now their taps have dried up and they are supporting the MK party in the hope that if it wins they will regain their influence,” said Zakhele Ndlovu, an MP. independent political analyst and lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, commenting on the popularity of the new party.

“The ANC has let us down”

However, some voters who were attached to the ANC are now throwing their weight behind the MP.

Nelly Msomi, 38, is from the rural area of ​​Tafelkop, southwest of Durban. The former administrative employee of the national railway company told Al Jazeera that she had left the ANC.

Msomi, her husband and some friends were taking part in the local MP election campaign, during which a procession of party supporters moved from one area to another, waving flags and wooing supporters to join to them and vote for them.

“We don’t have jobs, we don’t have water, we don’t have electricity,” she said in a Ford Ranger van that was part of the MK convoy. “The ANC has completely failed us. Even when they have projects in our communities, only connected people and advisors’ family members and their girlfriends benefit.

Although MK draws most of its support from the ANC’s electoral base, its presence is felt by other political parties such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a traditionalist Zulu nationalist party and main opponent of the ANC in KZN, and the economic party. Freedom Fighters (EFF), which was formed by Julius Malema, a former ANC grassroots youth leader.

Nhlanhla from Durban.

All its vehicles, including minibus taxis, carry the MK colors – green, yellow and black. He says even young people agree. “Wearing MK clothing has become a fashion statement for young people who are tired of the status quo. »

Xulu said Zuma’s emergence within MK had reignited his enthusiasm for politics.

“I, like many people I know, had planned not to vote, but when Zuma came and made promises, I knew I had a new political home,” he said. -he declares.

“Now our campaign as an MP in this region is going very well and people are eager to join and vote for the MK party. On May 29 (election day), MK will surprise many people.”

“Huge damage”

But MK doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some voters said they would remain loyal to their former parties. “I am not individuals (like Zuma). I am a party based on principles. I will vote for the ANC, as I always do,” said Andile Sibiya, 28, as he watched the campaign convoy of MPs pass his home in KwaDabeka, west of Durban.

Just over 27 million South Africans have registered to vote in the upcoming polls. Gauteng, the country’s most populous province with more than seven million registered voters, and KwaZulu-Natal, with 5.7 million voters, are the main battlegrounds.

A stall sells a uMkhonto weSizwe party T-shirt with an image of former South African President Jacob Zuma with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Durban, South Africa (File: Rogan Ward/Reuters)

Last month, a investigation The survey by the Brenthurst Foundation, a Johannesburg-based think tank, indicated that nationally, support for the ANC had fallen to 39 percent, with the closest opposition, the Alliance Democratic Party (DA), gaining ground with 27 percent.

The same survey found that in KZN, Zuma’s MK party was expected to be the largest, with 25 per cent of the vote. The ANC (20 percent), DA (19 percent) and IFP (19 percent) are neck and neck and a coalition provincial government is likely to govern the province.

The poll also suggests that a national coalition government is very likely after the general election.

“There is no doubt that the MK party will cause enormous damage to the ANC, especially in KZN, where the ANC leadership is weak and is seen as arrogant,” political analyst Ndlovu said.

Beyond KZN, he said “his success will be very limited”, attributing this to “ethnic Zulu nationalism” which was more of a driver of support in Zuma’s home province.

But Ndlovu also recognized the former president’s popularity as a motivating factor in itself: “Many people are fed up with high levels of crime, corruption, poverty and unemployment, and they see Zuma as their spiritual leader or their Messiah,” he said.

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