ANC fate now in Jacob Zuma’s hands

Jacob Zuma
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In our Greyville offices in Durban, we have a framed front page of the Daily News late special edition of June 14, 2005 with a picture of Thabo Mbeki on the left and Jacob Zuma on the right with a headline in the centre that screams: “YOU’RE FIRED!”.

By Lee Rondganger

“The scandal surrounding Zuma ends in his dramatic sacking by President Thabo Mbeki today,” the blurb of that front page adds.

Fast-forward to September 2008 and that very front page could have been used as a template when Zuma turned the tables on Mbeki after his backers in the ANC’s National Executive Committee decided to recall Mbeki from the Presidency of South Africa.

At Independent Media’s offices in Durban, there is a framed front page of the Daily News late special edition of June 14, 2005 with a picture of Thabo Mbeki on the left and Jacob Zuma on the right with a headline in the centre that screams, “YOU’RE FIRED!”. That very front page could have been used as a template when Zuma turned the tables on Mbeki. Picture: Lee Rondganger

It was an unprecedented move that had marked the first time the ANC had recalled a sitting president.

This after Zuma, backed by the ANCYL, Cosatu and SA Communist Party defeated Mbeki at the ANC’s 52nd National Conference in Polokwane in December 2007.

Mbeki accepted the decision to recall him and resigned, paving the way for Kgalema Motlanthe to become interim president until the next general elections in 2009, which saw Zuma ascend to the presidency of South Africa.

Zuma’s presidency was, however, marked by scandals such as the multi-million rand taxpayer funded renovations for this personal home in Nkandla, to allegations that the Gupta family had undue influence over him and had been able to capture state departments to line their own pockets.

In February 2018, after extensive deliberation and amid fears that Zuma’s continued presidency could harm the party’s performance in the 2019 general elections, the NEC decided to recall Jacob Zuma from the presidency.

This decision was a clear indication that Zuma no longer had the support of the ANC’s new party leadership under Cyril Ramaphosa who had narrowly defeated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – who was backed by Zuma – in the 2017 ANC conference in Polokwane.

Despite this, Zuma was initially resistant to resigning, causing a tense standoff.

He gave a defiant television interview in which he questioned the ANC’s motives and insisted that he had done nothing wrong.

However, facing the prospect of a no-confidence vote in Parliament and the loss of support from the ANC’s parliamentary caucus, Zuma announced his resignation on the evening of February 14, 2018 — ending his nearly nine-year presidency.

Despite not being in government, Zuma still wielded immense political power, especially in KZN where his supporters’ rallying cry was the song, “Wenzeni uZuma?” [What has Zuma done wrong?].

People in KwaZulu-Natal had never forgotten the vital role Zuma played in bringing peace between the warring factions of the ANC and IFP that threatened to take South Africa to the brink of civil war in the early 1990’s.

If Ramaphosa and his backers in the ANC had thought that they had buried Zuma once and for all at the ANC’s 55th national conference in 2022 when they beat Zweli Mkhize — Zuma’s preferred candidate — they were to be sadly mistaken.

As South Africa heads into its most pivotal election in a generation where the ruling ANC is at its weakest under the presidency of Ramaphosa, Zuma has thrown the proverbial spanner in the works by heading the formation of the breakaway uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) — that is set to redraw South Africa’s political map, delivering a wake-up call to the ANC and shaking the aspirations of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to their core.

A recent opinion poll predicts that the MKP could become the third-largest party in the country, outperforming the EFF. T

he opinion poll has put support for the MK Party at 13%, and EFF at 10% and if it is to be believed, in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s MKP is set to be the largest party, with 25% of the vote.

The same poll puts the ANC at 20%) Democratic Alliance (DA) at 19%and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) at 19%.

Zuma and the uMkhonto weSizwe Party are not just challenging the ANC; it’s threatening to snatch its crown jewel — KwaZulu-Natal.

This is not mere political rivalry; it’s an insurrection against the ANC’s two-decade dominion over the province that was won overwhelmingly in 2009 under Zuma.

With Zuma at the helm, the MKP is exploiting deep-rooted loyalties and discontent in the ANC to potentially flip the province, a move that would be nothing short of historic and could cause deep political fissures in a province with an ugly history of political violence.

But it is not just the ANC that should be worried about the emergence of MKP as a political force in South Africa.

The EFF, under Julius Malema, has fancied itself as the next big thing, eyeing the official opposition slot.

Ever the wily politician, Malema launched the EFF’s election manifesto at Durban’s Moses Mabhida stadium in February, knowing all too well that if the party had any chance of growing its national support base from 11% it had to make inroads in KwaZulu-Natal.

Enter Zuma and the uMkhonto weSizwe Party and any new support Malema had hoped to gain in KZN has surely dissipated.

One only has to look at the recent by-elections in KZN to see that the writing is on the wall for the EFF in KZN.

In a by-election in February in Phongola, the IFP won the ward with 890 votes, MKP came second with 687 votes, the ANC got 595 votes and the EFF just 52 votes.

Zuma’s party, while a force to be reckoned with, has its sights set strategically.

Its influence is big in KwaZulu-Natal, with lesser but significant impacts in parts of Gauteng and Mpumalanga.

Outside these areas, its presence dims.

The DA’s voter base remains likely untouched, highlighting the MKP’s tactical focus rather than a broad-based appeal.

Strip away Zuma, and the MKP loses its pulse.

The party thrives on anti-Ramaphosa sentiments and by its own admission does not have any concrete policies yet.

Zuma’s leadership is the glue binding its support; his absence would spell its unravelling.

Zuma’s play is clear: weaken the ANC, oust Ramaphosa.

If the ANC dips below the 50% mark nationally because of the MKP’s surge – as many polls predict – Zuma would have achieved his goal.

Zuma, since the day he was fired by Mbeki in 2005, has relished the underdog title and fighting when his back is against the wall.

His calculated strategy with MKP is not just about electoral gains, but shifting power within the ANC.

Depending on how well MKP does at the ballot box, Zuma could hold all the cards after the election to either keep the ANC in power or see it lose power for the first time since the dawn of democracy.

Zuma is positioning himself as the saviour of “Ramaphosa’s ANC”.

It’s a big risk for Zuma and his legacy and a gamble that Zuma is willing to take.

With just weeks out from an all important election, the 81-year-old has rolled the dice and we will only know how it lands after May 29.

Source: IOL