Sunday Times

Zuma more a troublemak­er than a credible competitor

- SAM MKOKELI ✼ Mkokeli is lead partner at public affairs consultanc­y Mkokeli Advisory

The Zuma brand of politics is toxic and dangerous. He is like the biblical Samson who brought down the pillars that caused the temple to collapse

When it suspended him this week, the ANC blinked first in its cold war with Jaco Zuma, its former president.

You would have thought the man from Nkandla was yanking the party’s chains simply to cause trouble.

By suspending him, the ANC showed it had read the tea leaves differentl­y.

It feels vulnerable to organisati­onal penetratio­n within its ranks in KwaZulu-Natal. It fears Zuma could use its structures to hold rallies to campaign for his Umkhonto we Sizwe party.

By suspending him, the ANC may be admitting that the Zuma rebels could sway its provincial leadership and the lower ranks in KwaZulu-Natal.

Chatter among commentato­rs is that Zuma could cream off up to 10% of the vote, presumably from the ANC. That is hard to believe.

I do not think South Africa has a million or so deranged voters. I have yet to see a survey looking into Zuma’s influence ahead of the polls, which are likely to be in May.

It is hard to become a 6% party in South Africa. Ordinarily, it takes a seismic event within the ANC, as when the Congress of the People was formed in 2008.

It garnered about 1.3million votes, or 7% of the total. Enter Julius Malema, the enfant terrible of South African politics. Malema was dead and buried and resorted to cabbage farming until the Marikana massacre became a springboar­d to launch the EFF. It earned 1.1-million votes in 2014, or 6.35%.

Malema took a big chunk of the ANC Youth League, which had more than 500,000 members when he held its reins before his expulsion from the ANC in 2012.

Zuma has been off the ANC main stage since 2018, when he was booted from the Union Buildings, and has since been to jail and back, and has looked more like a Trevor Noah wannabe than a freedom fighter.

The ANC may have thrown some fuel on the fire by suspending him. Instead of tightening its grip on provincial and regional leadership teams and driving a positive campaign, it gave Zuma the attention he craved.

The Zuma brand of politics is toxic and dangerous.

He is like the biblical Samson who brought down the pillars that caused the temple to collapse. The ANC would rather have him outside than in.

Political violence is guaranteed in places like KwaZulu-Natal. Zuma’s entry onto the stage can only worsen the situation.

The financial markets will watch the elections with rising angst.

One of the scariest things is that they seem not to have priced in the topsy-turvy battle that has yet to hot up. And without fresh polls, reading the elections becomes guesswork. We are left with dead-rubber events such as the state of the nation address and the budget speech.

There is no money to do anything extraordin­ary, so President Cyril Ramaphosa can only reflect on the past five years’ performanc­e. This week’s state of the nation address, some say, will be a dry run for the one to be tabled after the elections when the new administra­tion takes off.

I don’t think so. The past five years have felt like a dry run for Ramaphosa’s second term in the Union Buildings. Some expect him to go out guns blazing, acting fearlessly since it’s his final term.

Well, only if he does still lead the ANC. He will recall that two of his predecesso­rs, Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, were “recalled” and did not complete their second term. And with a likely reduced vote in 2024, he might have to watch his back a whole lot more in his second term than before.

Even efforts from the business sector to help the government may prove futile. Instead of being used as a stimulus for significan­t momentum, the ANC may just use that to campaign and present itself as the only party to manage a broad spectrum of relations and keep South Africa relatively stable.

Organised business will have contribute­d to maintainin­g the status quo, which may be what it wants as it fears more volatility should there be significan­t political change this year. We live in interestin­g times.

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