Zuma’s role in the upcoming election: A spoiler, not a kingmaker – Prof Theo Venter

This year is a significant one for South Africa as it gears up for the elections, and a key factor that has emerged is the ‘Zuma factor’. This follows the decision of former ANC president Jacob Zuma to support the newly formed Umkhonto we Sizwe party for the 2024 election, despite not resigning from the ANC. In an interview with BizNews, Prof Theo Venter, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg, said that the ANC was taken by surprise by the formation of the MK Party and seems uncertain about how to respond. Venter believes that the new MK party, with Zuma as its figurehead, could impact the ANC’s support in Kwazulu-Natal, but doubts it will have a national influence. When asked if Zuma could emerge as the kingmaker in the upcoming election, Venter suggested that Zuma is more likely to play the role of a spoiler. As for the possibility of Zuma returning to the ANC and seeking forgiveness, Venter believes that the ANC is unlikely to forgive Zuma this time around. According to Venter, the most significant issue in the upcoming election will be load shedding, followed by the cost of living and inflation. He ranks the lack of service delivery by local governments as the third priority for voters. The informal economy, primarily run by foreigners, could also become a contentious issue in the election.- Linda van Tilburg 

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:38 – Introduction
  • 00:52 – Proof Theo Venter on the importance of the 2024 Election
  • 03:45 – The Zuma Factor and ANC’s Dilemma
  • 07:31 – ANC’s Lies and Zuma’s Cunning Political Tactics
  • 08:55 – Zuma’s Impact on ANC’s Majority
  • 11:05 – Zuma as a Spoiler in KwaZulu-Natal
  • 13:19 – Possibility of Coalition Government
  • 15:00 – Funding and Support for MK Party
  • 18:15 – Key Issues in the 2024 Election

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Excerpts from the Interview

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The ANC was caught off-guard by MK party formation

Zuma is a very cunning political actor. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He has been in the ANC for a very long time and he has a knack for challenging convention, and when he’s caught out, to declare innocence, and to expect some form of forgiveness. I think this time around it is difficult. The ANC knows it is in trouble The ANC is aware of its precarious position, grappling with issues like the cost of living, load shedding, and a stagnant economy. The fact that Zuma has now associated himself with another political party, which is not a formation of the ANC, but uses the very well-established ANC brand, Umkhonto we Sizwe (the ANC’s military wing) and to register that as a political party, caught them off-guard.  

This party was registered in September last year with the Independent Electoral Commission. The ANC didn’t do their homework because they should have known and they should have watched what is happening in terms of newly registered political parties. They would have had time to appeal and they didn’t do that. They were caught off guard by this new political party’s formation.

ANC won’t forgive Zuma this time  

If you read the ANC constitution, Zuma has actually expelled himself from the ANC. The ANC constitution says any leader or any member of the ANC who campaigns for another political party, becomes the image or uses the symbols of an opponent’s political party or a competitive political player, expels himself. I think that is exactly what happened to Zuma. So, his declaration of being the face of the Umkhonto-We Sizwe party while maintaining his ANC membership but he will die a member of the ANC is his interpretation of the ANC constitution. He has put the ANC in a difficult position. 

The NEC, which is the highest ANC decision-making structure, had an opportunity over the weekend to discuss his position. I don’t think they have. I don’t think they know exactly what to do. If they are going to expel him, then, of course, he would expect a proper hearing, or he would expect a hearing of some kind.

If we look at the other games that he has played with the legal system in South Africa, he has kept our courts busy now for the last 20 years by playing the so-called Stalinist strategy, that is to move from one technical point to another technical point to another. He will do that with the ANC as well. However, with the ANC currently facing significant challenges, Zuma might hope and pray for some kind of forgiveness. This time, it is unlikely to be granted.

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No Expected Fallout Following Mbalula’s Admission of ANC’s Deception for Zuma

I don’t think much will happen. If you look at American impeachment history, the Democrats lied to save Clinton. The Republicans lied to save Trump. This is what political parties do. They would form a very, very well-established South African term, a lager, which means to protect the leader, and if they have to lie, they will do it. And this is exactly what ANC has done with Zuma not once, more than once, to protect him and they knew from the beginning that he was a weak leader and he needed that kind of protection. So, yeah, I hear the criticism that the ANC lied and they now acknowledge it, but I think it’s part of the ANC talking to themselves about what they have done to protect Zuma in the last 20-25 years.  They are now at the end of their tether. They don’t want to go on with this.

MK impact in KZN, unlikely to change outcome nationally

The Mkhonto party is expected to have an impact primarily in KwaZulu-Natal, the second-largest province in the country in terms of population. Traditionally, the ANC’s stronghold was in this region, but over time, the centre of gravity has shifted towards Gauteng. This year, KwaZulu-Natal faces several significant challenges, which is why the MK party’s role is crucial. The Zulu royal house is currently in a state of turmoil, with the appointment of the king being legally contested. The IFP, which was thought to be fading away after the death of Mangasuthu Butelezi last year, is showing signs of growth, indicating a resurgence beyond Buthelezi. The ANC itself is divided, with factions supporting either Zuma or Ramaphosa. These divisions make the 2024 outcome in KwaZulu-Natal a potential case study for a coalition government at the provincial level. However, if the ANC underperforms in KZN, it could affect national figures and bring the ANC closer to the feared 50% margin.

Zuma is not a kingmaker, he is a spoiler

I would categorise him more as a spoiler than a kingmaker, as he’s not likely to elevate anyone to a position of leadership. Instead, he might complicate the ANC’s efforts to form a standalone government, potentially forcing them into a coalition with smaller parties.

Based on current surveys, the ANC is projected to secure between 45 and 50% of the vote. This estimate is grounded in the fact that the ANC typically enters an election with about 30% of the vote already secured, which largely consists of the rural vote and South Africans who are beneficiaries of government grants. This is a captive market. To win, they need an additional 20$ of the vote, which is typically the urban vote. However, the urban vote has seen a significant decline in service and service delivery over the past two decades, making it a challenging market for the ANC.

With the MK party in play, they might secure one or 2% of the vote. If the ANC reaches 48%, they won’t be considering the EFF, which is expected to secure 10 to 15% of the vote. The EFF is in a position where they’re too big to be small and too small to be big. Instead, the ANC would likely look to a smaller party with one to three percent of the vote to form some kind of coalition government.

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Key issues in the 2024 election

The primary issue is going to be load shedding, the term used in South Africa for power outages. These outages, particularly prevalent in urban areas, disproportionately affect women who are responsible for cooking. In the 60s and 70s, the government embarked on a massive electrification project, so most homes, including informal ones, run on electricity. Without electricity, cooking becomes impossible.

The second issue is the cost of living, which is not solely a South African problem. It has been exacerbated by a shortage of cooking oil and rising food costs due to the war in Ukraine, leading to high inflation and a poor economic base, similar to what has been experienced in Great Britain and Europe.

The third issue is the lack of service delivery by local governments, such as maintaining roads and removing refuse. Additionally, an informal economy, primarily run by foreigners from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Somalia, Ethiopia, etc., has emerged. This has led to a high level of xenophobia.

It seems that some South African political parties, like the Patriotic Front, would align with anti-immigration sentiments similar to those of Donald Trump. This trend is also evident in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and the old East Bloc countries. Xenophobia will be an issue. It’s not only the Patriotic Alliance that’s concerned about this but also Action SA, a member of the multi-party charter. They have a strong anti-immigration policy. They’re not against foreigners per se, but against those who are in the country illegally.

However, entering South Africa legally is a significant challenge due to porous borders. For instance, the Limpopo River only flows in summer, making it easy to cross in winter. The same applies to our borders with Botswana, Mozambique, and Swaziland. Enforcing legality in such conditions is a tall order.

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