Picture: @DZumaSambudla / X / January 13, 2024 – Former ANC president, Jacob Zuma’s newly formed political party, MK, does not have the potential support of being a counter-movement; it is not linked to external interests at the moment and wants to stay as close to the ANC’s influence sphere as possible. It is therefore not promoting any form of regime change, the writer says.
By Dirk Kotzé
Jacob Zuma’s announcement that he will not campaign and vote for the ANC in the general election, but will support the new MK party, still reverberates all over the ANC. The mere fact that a former national and ANC president took this step is more significant than even all the ANC resignations in 2008 and the formation of Cope or the EFF in 2013.
Zuma’s step is not a de jure resignation from the ANC but is a de facto resignation and ends his association with the ANC for the moment.
A forerunner of this step was when the church-backed African Transformation Movement (ATM) was formed with Zuma’s blessing in 2018. In that case, the ANC’s response was muted but this time Zuma’s actions are unambiguous and more outspoken.
Some in the ANC therefore accuse him of a “counter-revolutionary” agenda. Ironically, he accuses the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa of forsaking the party’s revolutionary agenda and that the “real” ANC must be re-established. It resonates with the southern African context, where the former liberation movements are jealous of their claim to be the sole protagonists of a revolutionary vision.
Movements like Unita in Angola, Renamo in Mozambique, Zapu earlier in Zimbabwe and later also the MDC, were accused of promoting counter- revolutionary agendas. It included devastating civil wars.
The contestation between Zuma and Ramaphosa’s ANC is therefore about who represents the “genuine” ANC, who can claim the liberatory symbols of the ANC like Umkhonto we Sizwe or the Freedom Charter.
Zuma also adds an African nationalist component together with the socialist legacy that the SACP represented in exile. While the break-away in 2008 of the Mbeki supporters in the formation of Cope was presented as a struggle for the soul of the ANC, including the historical Congress of the People event, Zuma justifies his latest step as something similar.
The notion that Ramaphosa is not a “real” ANC cadre is not a new Zuma idea. The fact that he was not in exile, not a member of MK or the SACP and not ideologically trained in an Eastern European country are factors used against him.
Zuma and many former Radical Economic Transformation (RET) supporters share this sentiment. Zuma’s first statement on the MK party activated this accusation – also that he is a stooge of “white monopoly capital”.
Why is the focus on MK?
During the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies, MK was not a prominent focus point and did not receive much attention. Zuma activated it, formed the MK military veterans’ association and provided them with many social and pension benefits. But they never developed the prominence of the military veterans in Zimbabwe. The ANC’s factionalism also infiltrated this group and they developed two associations. Ramaphosa forced them into a merger.
Zuma’s singing of Struggle songs and his emphasis on MK were meant to galvanise the image of himself as the caretaker of the ANC’s legacy and of the exile history, and as a leftist in the party’s thinking. The turmoil in mid-2021 in KZN and persons dressed in MK uniforms were very prominent in guarding Nkandla and thereby reinforcing Zuma’s association with it.
MK therefore captures most of the symbols Zuma wants to control. Therefore, the choice of MK as a party name.
Is there any substance in the notion that Zuma and the MK party pose a counter-revolutionary threat of violence or regime change?
Ideologically they differ from the mainstream ANC’s policies and sentiments, and for the ANC it is a retrogressive development. But if this is compared with Unita or Renamo and their conservative policies and association with foreign (mainly Western) powers, then MK does not fit that bill.
It does not have the potential support of being a counter-movement; it is not linked to external interests at the moment and wants to stay as close to the ANC’s influence sphere as possible. It is therefore not promoting any form of regime change – maybe, one can say that they want a leftist “palace coup” in the ANC.
What is the MK party’s political appeal? It is predictable that the party will appeal to the former RET supporters and to disgruntled ANC members or supporters in KZN who feel marginalised by the Ramaphosa leadership. (KZN is under-represented in the top ANC leadership.) It will also appeal to supporters of Zuma’s African nationalism and identity politics (“100% Zulu boy”) and to those with nostalgic memories of the exile period.
The threat by some retired defence force generals to rescue the political situation is a typical example of it.
Despite the public criticism that Ramaphosa has not done enough to act against those involved in state capture, the targets of his actions in the security and justice clusters, SOEs, the Cabinet and the ANC’s national executive committee are all looking for a political home and MK might be an option for them.
MK does not appear to appeal to the youth, despite its radical image. MK is not part of their memory and therefore will not activate strong emotions. Zuma represents an old generation and does not reach out to the younger generations.
MK has the potential to make an impact on the electoral results in KZN. The ANC lost about 10 percent of its support in the 2019 provincial elections. In 2021, it lost its majority in the eThekwini metro council. At the same time, the IFP is improving its position in the province. MK may therefore be the final nail for the ANC to lose its majority in the province.
But in the rest of South Africa, MK will be one of the small parties.
Professor Dirk Kotzé is based in the Department of Political Sciences at Unisa