FORMER South African president Jacob Zuma climbed on to a stage at the YMCA in Orlando West, Soweto, on Saturday, and with his daughter at his side, repudiated the African National Congress (ANC) in a room packed with supporters, members of the public and the media.
Dec. 19, 2023
9 min read
Zuma’s ANC repudiation unlikely to have a significant impact on national poll — analysts
Former SA president, Jacob Zuma
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Zuma declared that he would not vote or campaign for the ANC, a party he has been a member of for 62 years, in next year’s general elections. Instead, the corruption-accused former president threw his weight behind the newly formed Umkhonto We Sizwe party.
While Zuma’s announcement may have implications for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, where the former president enjoys widespread support and had been expected to campaign for the party in 2024, analysts said it would not have a significant impact on the greater political landscape.
Saturday’s media briefing on the former president’s next political move came just hours after SA president Cyril Ramaphosa called for unity among ANC members after several public disputes.
Zuma said he could not in good conscience support a party that, under the administration of a leader with “un-ANC-like behaviour”, was no longer an organisation he recognised.
“I have decided that I cannot and will not campaign for the ANC of Ramaphosa. It is not the ANC I joined. It would be a betrayal to campaign for the ANC of Ramaphosa. My conscience will not allow that,” Zuma said.
In the same breath, he claimed that he would remain a loyal member of the ruling party.
Saying his latest gambit was a bid to rescue the ANC from the wrong hands, Zuma called on all South Africans, including members of the ANC, to cast their votes for the Umkhonto We Sizwe party.
Grudges and power struggles
Dale McKinley, a political analyst for the International Labour, Research and Information Group, said Zuma’s disavowal of the ANC was a grudge against Ramaphosa that was playing out in the greater political landscape.
“This is about a grievance. He has a grudge and he has a grudge against the Ramaphosa faction in particular. So what he’s doing is he’s hedging his bets,” McKinley said.
His view was shared by political analyst Dr Metji Makgoba, who said Zuma was wounded and had a personal dispute with Ramaphosa.
Makgoba added that the former president was trying to cause conflict in the ANC to regain political legitimacy.
“Zuma knows that any consequences for the ANC will affect Ramaphosa’s legitimacy directly. Both Ramaphosa and Zuma have been trying to separate themselves from each other. Ramaphosa feels Zuma represents nine wasted years and Zuma believes Ramaphosa is a proponent of white supremacy. But we must not lose sight that they are both cut from the same cloth. Both of them presided over a broken ANC and both of them made it worse,” Makgoba said.
Touching on Zuma’s contradictory statement about not resigning from the ANC, but taking his support elsewhere, McKinley said Zuma wanted to give the party a hard time and cost it votes.
“The endgame of this is hard to see, but clearly he seems to think that this and a few other things will then turn the ANC in his favour, and at some point, he’s going to come back and recapture the ANC,” McKinley said.
Daily Maverick was unable to reach ANC KZN spokesperson Mafika Mndebele on Sunday, but he told Newzroom Afrika the party believed Zuma’s actions were “counterrevolutionary” and aimed at “swaying” voters away from “home”.
“As the ANC in KZN, we note what President Jacob Zuma said. The ANC KZN still holds President Zuma in high regard as one of the leaders of the movement. But what we say is that what has been said is an attempt to sway people from voting for the ANC. We call on all our members to close ranks … not to follow individuals, but to show their allegiance to the ANC.
“No loyal cadre of the ANC must tell people not to vote for the ANC, because doing so will be counterrevolutionary,” Mndebele said.
ANC supporters in KZN appeared divided by Zuma’s decision, with some believing the ANC could now define itself without his shadow hanging over the party. Others expressed support for what they described as “strong anti-Ramaphosa action”.
Attempts for comment from Nkosenhle Shezi, the former spokesperson of the pro-Zuma Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction of the ANC, were unsuccessful on Sunday.
But other RET insiders told Daily Maverick the Umkhonto We Sizwe party had been recruiting for several months from the RET forces and they had received behind-the-scenes support and endorsements from the former president.
A pro-Zuma leader in the Harry Gwala Region, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “We had expected this a long time ago… It was long overdue. During Zuma’s time, the ANC was very popular with the people. There were jobs; people were eating. Even people on the ground were getting jobs through the Expanded Public Works Programme. Now, all of that has dried up and we have a wishy-washy leadership which seems to have been captured.”
Zuma, who was once a powerful and popular figure in KZN, has spent the past few months at his Nkandla homestead, doing nothing noteworthy apart from attending funerals and other functions.
In July 2023, the Constitutional Court upheld the ruling that he should go back to prison to complete his 15-month sentence for contempt of court. However, on the eve of his admission to the Estcourt Correctional Centre Ramaphosa granted Zuma, as well as thousands of other inmates, remission.
SA President, Cyril Ramaphosa
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Chances of success
McKinley said that a party established five months before the elections was unlikely to succeed in the national political arena.
He said that with Zuma’s backing, the Umkhonto We Sizwe party was likely to get a small percentage of the vote, particularly in KZN, but would not make much impact nationally.
“Zuma is not popular across the country. He may have a certain degree of loyalty amongst certain elements and particularly in KZN, but beyond that, I don’t see a particular threat,” McKinley said.
Professor Musa Xula, a retired academic who is based in KZN, said Zuma’s move could free the ANC from some of its political deadweight.
“The ANC is lucky. All of its opponents are generally publicly discredited individuals,” Xulu said.
Zakhele Ndlovu, a senior politics lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said it was still too early to determine whether Zuma’s latest move was viable or a complete blunder on the part of the 82-year-old ANC stalwart.
“We know that Zuma still enjoys some support, especially in KZN, but we don’t know whether this support is still as huge as when he was the president of the ANC and of the country. I think this is a big gamble on his part.
“Zuma enjoyed the support of many Zulus because he was the first Zulu president after Albert Luthuli — before that, the ANC was dominated by Xhosa leaders — and he was a traditionalist. The question is, does he still have that support? We saw before [the ANC’s 2017 Nasrec conference] when he urged his supporters to vote for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, but ANC KZN did not support this call,” Ndlovu said.
“I think people who will support Msholozi will be a small minority within the ANC in KZN, people who believe that they are marginalised and ostracised within the organisation. He will not attract people from the Inkatha Freedom Party or the Economic Freedom Fighters. I think nationally he and his party will not garner anything above 2% of the vote and in KZN I don’t think he will get anything above 5%.”
Case for expulsion
In his statement, Zuma claimed that the lack of discipline in the current ANC was one of the reasons he had lost faith in the organisation. However, questions have arisen about whether his public disavowal of the ANC was not itself ill-discipline.
Zuma’s support of the fledgling party contravenes the ANC’s constitution, which lists joining or supporting a political organisation or party not aligned with the ANC as an act of misconduct, which can lead to disciplinary proceedings and, possibly, expulsion.
Makgoba said Zuma was trying to push the ANC into a corner and force the ruling party to expel him, thereby causing further conflict in an already fractured party. However, Makgoba doesn’t believe the ANC will expel the former president, adding that the party knows it is just another tactic to discredit Ramaphosa.
On Saturday, Zuma was tight-lipped about the extent of his involvement in the new party, claiming his sole role was as a campaigner and voter.
When asked whether he would throw his hat into the ring for a leadership position in the party, he said the party’s leadership structures would be announced in the coming months.
ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula has said the ANC intends to take legal action against the Umkhonto We Sizwe party as the ANC believes that anyone who registers the name without the party’s approval is in violation of trademark laws. DM