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The return of Zuma

The return of Zuma

South Africa’s former President Jacob Zuma, now 82, has made a dramatic return to the political scene. Ousted by the ANC in 2018 amidst corruption allegations—which he denied—Zuma was succeeded by President Cyril Ramaphosa. In a significant twist, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2021 for contempt after defying a court order to appear before an inquiry into corruption during his presidency. Ramaphosa released Zuma after just three months in an attempt to placate him and his supporters, a decision he may now regret.

Zuma has re-entered politics under the banner of a new party, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), or Spear of the Nation. Preliminary election results indicate that the ANC has lost significant support to MK, which is poised to possibly take control of the KwaZulu-Natal province. If this trend is confirmed, Zuma would become a major political force in the province, providing him with a base to challenge Ramaphosa—a key objective of his return.

Despite his conviction barring him from the National Assembly, Zuma continues to wield influence behind the scenes. MK’s rise has been rapid and significant; it was only registered in September, and Zuma announced his allegiance in December, unable to support a Ramaphosa-led ANC. Since then, MK has shaken the political landscape in South Africa, achieving unprecedented growth for a new party since the end of apartheid.

According to Paddy Harper, the KwaZulu-Natal correspondent for the Mail & Guardian, MK has not only eaten into the ANC’s support but also that of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which had been the third-largest party. MK is now challenging the EFF for this position in the national parliament.

Live coverage indicates that the EFF’s vote share in KwaZulu-Natal could drop to single digits if current trends hold, despite their targeted campaign in the province. Both the EFF and MK advocate similar economic policies, such as the expropriation of white-owned land and the nationalization of key economic sectors. However, Zuma has managed to draw EFF supporters in his home province by emphasizing Zulu nationalism and invoking the legacy of King Shaka.

Zuma has also pledged to increase the powers of South Africa’s traditional leaders, who currently hold ceremonial roles but influence rural development. MK’s manifesto promises to expropriate land without compensation, placing it under state and traditional leader custodianship, and criticizes Ramaphosa’s economic management and stringent COVID-19 lockdown measures, which they argue worsened poverty and unemployment.

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