With Zuma off the ballot paper, will the fires be re-lit?

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / Under normal circumstances, the Independent Electoral Commission’s announcement that the leader of a newly formed political party would not be allowed to stand in the 29 May elections would have been little more than a non-issue. IEC chairperson Mosotho Moepya had hardly switched on the microphone when the country knew exactly what was coming.

And the entire thing might have blown over within a day or so were it not for one kink: the man who’d been barred from standing was Jacob Zuma, power behind the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP), and its supposed ‘presidential candidate’. For the MK Party includes personalities who have been accused of stoking the fires that engulfed KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in what is grimly remembered as the July 2021 Riots, leading to the deaths of 354 people, massive economic damage, and the unforgettable image of a country descending into lawlessness and anarchy.

This followed Zuma’s 11th hour arrest at his Nkandla homestead for contempt of court, following his refusal to appear before the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. On that evening, milling outside his gate were armed supporters wielding belligerent vocabulary and poised to prevent – seemingly with their very lives – Zuma’s imminent incarceration. As various media houses teleported the tense scenes into our living rooms, a nation breathed a sigh of relief when Zuma did the right thing, ultimately handing himself in to police.

Image of Jacob Zuma on the MK Party’s Facebook page. Officially, the party is still leaderless.

But few anticipated what would come barely a day later. It began with trucks being torched along major highways in KZN, and crowds running amok in commercial areas in various cities and towns – a prelude to the bedlam that was to come. The rest is today the stuff of court processes, a concluded commission of inquiry, and many people still reeling from the massive loss of life and destruction of property.

Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, was embroiled in the havoc when she allegedly sent tweets to her massive twitter following, openly supporting the rioting. Analysts later concluded that that the uprising was well-orchestrated rather than spontaneous. Security forces seemed helpless as rioters rammed down shop doors, made off with their illicit bounty, burned buildings and killed people.

Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, Zuma’s daughter … 18th on the MK Party’s list of candidates for the National Assembly.

With Zuma barred from contesting the upcoming elections, many fear that this could lead to renewed violence. Historically, KZN has been a hotbed of grotesque political bloodletting. And with MK seemingly having a strong foothold in the region, such fears – the pundits warn – could turn into bloody reality.

Although Section 47 of the Constitution clearly disallows any citizen who has been sentenced to prison for longer than 12 months without the option of a fine from being an MP within five years after serving the sentence, the MK Party – which has punted Zuma as its their main ou – plan to appeal against the IEC’s decision at the Electoral Court in any case. This raises the question: just how far is the party prepared to go to ensure that its candidate of choice returns to parliament?

In a country with a plausible recent record of free and fair elections, the need to ask this question says as much about the shifting political tides and attitudes as it does about the significance of this particular election and – God forbid – the very death of the packaged, romanticized variant of democracy as we’ve known it since 1994.

One cannot dismiss the whiff of fascism lingering in the air. It was easy to not take it too seriously when it was just the EFF and obscure entities like the Black First Land (BLF) which were the outlying advocates of such tendencies. But with the emergence of extremist parties with significant support, like the MK Party, it’s enough to leave those in the centre a tad unnerved.

Given strengthening anti-ANC sentiments, reflected in unflattering poll results, established opposition parties as well as new entrants are smelling blood. The indomitable ANC is shedding its mane — best the hyenas strike now before President Cyril Ramaphosa makes good on his promises to sift out the rot and start putting people in jail, thereby seeking to restore voter confidence in what has been reduced to little more than a government of thieves.

Just this week, the Parliamentary Speaker, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, submitted her resignation, a day before appearing in the Pretoria Magistrates Court on charges of corruption and money laundering. In a country where even the minions seldom face the music, this is a seismic development, ringing the alarm bells in the corridors of power that the State Capture gravy train has stopped running, and that nobody will be protected from the wrath of renewal.

Former Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula … charged with corruption and money laundering. Image: Wikipedia.

Of course, this may just be part of a plan to make it seem as if the NPA has been given back the sting removed from the Scorpions, which were disbanded back in 2009 when they started stinging where the big men didn’t want them to.

However, the problem with this strategy is that it goes against the grain of a party in which misdeeds are often overlooked in exchange for political support. Presidents have been known to rise  to power on the shoulders of tainted people, and in exchange to look the other way or even pull the plug on those state institutions that would later try to bring those same people down.

In an article in City Press some four years ago (regrettably now behind a paywall), I wrote that, if the ANC was serious about renewal, ‘unity’ would have to be the first casualty. This was on the back of a scathing open letter targeting the ruling party, penned by president Cyril Ramaphosa himself. I started by writing: ‘It was always clear that the man who would earnestly brave down the path of fighting ANC corruption would be the one who’d reconciled that if and when he should emerge out the other side, he would also be the one to have destroyed the party he so dearly loved.’

The rationale behind this argument was that the party has become so corrupted that it was simply impossible to root it out without targeting close allies and ‘chommies’ as well. Following the charges brought against Mapisa-Nqakula, others are undoubtedly asking themselves: ‘Now that the Speaker is gone, are we really safe?’ One can safely assume that hard drives are disappearing, paper trails erased, and hush money being paid.

As for Zuma, he is obviously redeploying his notorious ‘Stalingrad’ tactics (obstructing or delaying legal action against him in every possible way) as a means of sauntering back into the National Assembly as an Honourable Member. Though his battle now may be with the IEC, his war is really with those in the ANC – many of whom would have been no more than backbenchers were it not for his patronage – who didn’t lift a finger when he was forced to step down as president in 2018. He has a score to settle.

Duduzane Zuma, Zuma’s son, and one-time self-proclaimed ‘presidential candidate’ … his All Game Changers party has been removed from the election list.

A few months ago, it seemed that a troika of Zumas – father Jacob, son Duduzane and daughter Duduzile ­- would head off to parliament. What better way to inflict sweet vengeance on his enemies than to return to the benches flanked by his twin offspring? But given the IEC decision, and the fact that Duduzane’s All Game Changers party has quietly been removed from the IEC’s list, the only Zuma we might see in the august House is Duduzile. Her alleged sins of inciting violence means that she merely joins candidates across many parties who have been fingered for some misdemeanour at one point or another.

In just over a month, former minister Nathi Nhleko ­- who recently resigned from the ANC – has been welcomed into the MKP, where he does duty as national organiser for the upcoming national and provincial ballot. Sitting comfortably at number 27 on the EFF’s parliament list, Carl Niehaus will probably become the Red Brigade’s first white MP. This underscores that politicians are a law unto themselves; when you’re a politician, the rules, even those of common morality, simply don’t apply.

Given all of this, it’s hardly surprising that community meetings even in obscure hamlets or towns like Colesberg often descend into crude insults and name-calling, and even physical violence. This is the message sent to the ground when, for example, the EFF charges the stage in the middle of a president’s address. Violence seemingly becomes the currency for securing a seat at the table — it becomes an instrument of power.

Moreover, South African politics are tailored around personalities rather than institutions of governance. In countries where voter or democratic education is prioritised, the sheer idea of individuals as flawed as those who are waltzing onto our election lists would probably provoke massive protests. Here at home, it only results in disapproving comments under online news reports or in social media – most people just shrug and go about their business. Hence there is almost zero pressure on these nefarious elements, and no accountability, as they get away with all manner of wrongdoing.

Perhaps our salvation lies in the fact that 63.3% of our population falls in the 15–34 age group – in other words, they are younger people who are more likely to question the status quo. Sadly, in previous elections, this crucial demographic mostly chose to sit out the voting. Perhaps in this and coming years, they will show up and make their mark, for themselves and for the rest of us.

FEATURED IMAGE: Jacob Zuma addresses a gathering of the MK Party. Image: MK Party Facebook page.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Phakamiza Mayaba’s website, eParkeni. Used with permission. 

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