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The MKP’s power tussle is a distraction ahead of polls

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The uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) leader and former president Jacob Zuma. What has caught the attention of many people is the recent expulsion of the man who registered the party, Jabulani Khumalo, and four others from the MKP. Some voters might interpret the expulsions as indicative of a lack of stability and as a sign that the MKP is imploding, the writer says. – Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / Independent Newspapers / March 8, 2024

By Bheki Mngomezulu

Following the historic announcement by former president Jacob Zuma that he was going to canvass for the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) and not the ANC, South Africa’s political landscape was reconfigured.

Many political leaders who had been caught off-guard were set in panic mode. Some even made public statements which were unwarranted. Such statements reflected badly on their political parties.

Since then, the MKP has been making its presence felt in different provinces, albeit in different magnitudes. As the party showed growth in support, some of those who had taken it lightly and dismissed it as a smokescreen at first, started to take it seriously.

Some left their old political parties and joined MKP. Whether they did this with good intentions to advance the interests of the party, for their own agendas or to disrupt the MKP and ensure that it implodes from within remains debatable and a moot point.

Drawing from past experiences on how newly formed political parties have been infiltrated, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that both possibilities exist.

But what has caught the attention of many people is the recent development where the man who registered the party, Jabulani Khumalo, and four others were expelled from the MKP.

The first question which arose was: What triggered this expulsion?

One explanation is that these members could not be trusted because they were allegedly working closely with the ANC clandestinely to disrupt the MKP’s plans.

Khumalo is accused of owning a R3-million car and failing to disclose to the party how or where he got it. Speculations were that he was given the car by his “handlers” who wanted to derail all the MKP’s plans. Although this accusation could not be immediately authenticated, it was so serious that the leadership felt it warranted an expulsion from the party.

The other four were expelled for other reasons.

The question on many people’s lips is how will this incident affect the MKP. There are two ways in which this question could be answered.

The first response is that, as a new party, the expulsion might cause serious instability and internal divisions. If that were to happen, the MKP’s political adversaries would rejoice and use internal squabbles to lure members to their fold.

This explanation and response are contingent upon the political maturity of both the leadership and the general membership. If they are weak, they will struggle to contain the situation. But if they are politically mature, they will use this incident to make a statement that anyone who “sells” the organisation will face the same fate. Of critical importance would be to make everyone understand how and why this decision to expel the five members was arrived at.

The second response is that it is important to purify the party at this infant stage so that it can have a solid foundation. This view is predicated on the understanding that it is foolhardy to build a mansion on a shaky foundation. Therefore, for the MKP to be strong and to survive, it needs reliable people to propel it to stardom. If the five members are deemed dispensable, and if they are a liability to the party, then their expulsion is justifiable.

Now, all eyes are on the upcoming elections. Despite the many court cases the MKP still must deal with, it is also readying itself for this election.

Voters are weighing their options as they listen to different party manifestos and do their analysis of each political party.

How will the MKP’s decision to expel its five members impact its election campaign?

Here too, there are two possible answers. The first answer is that some voters might interpret the expulsion as being indicative of a lack of stability in the party and as a sign that the MKP is imploding. Based on this view, they might decide to take their vote elsewhere.

However, the opposite answer is that some in the electorate might interpret this decision as a sign that the MKP is serious and wants to do things differently.

The ANC as the governing party has been accused of inaction and partisan decisions. If the MKP takes this firm stance and upholds and applies it consistently and assiduously, this might earn the trust of the electorate. If that happens, the party might even attract people who initially had no intention to vote for it.

What is clear from this discussion is that the decision by the interim leadership of the MKP has caught the attention of people outside of the party.

The different interpretations provided above lead to the conclusion that this incident is open to different interpretations. These interpretations are context-specific. They also draw from past experiences.

Therefore, this development should not be perceived as the defining moment for the MKP. Voters will consider other factors when they decide which party they will vote for. This means that the MKP must ensure that it implements this decision consistently to gain public trust.

As for the MKP’s political opponents, it is too early to celebrate. The hurdle which the MKP must focus on should be the court cases.

At home, the leadership must ensure that all party members know what is happening and why. Any division in the MKP would negatively affect its plans.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University