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Will this election mark the return of Jacob Zuma or spoil the party for ANC?

Opinion & Analysis
The new National Council of Provinces will be elected at the first sitting of each provincial legislature.

SOUTH Africa goes to the polls this week on May 29 to elect a new National Assembly as well as the provincial legislature in each of the nine provinces. This is going to be the seventh general election held under conditions of universal adult suffrage since the end of the apartheid era in 1994. The new National Council of Provinces will be elected at the first sitting of each provincial legislature.

The general elections come exactly a month after the country celebrated its 30th independence anniversary with many questioning the meaning of democracy, while others celebrate the achievements so far. While there are differing views on how the African National Congress (ANC) government has fared in the last three decades, there is no doubt that this coming election is not going to be just like the previous ones.

This is simply because of the return to politics of former President Jacob Zuma who is fronting the uMkhonto we Sizwe party, a political outfit that is only six months old, and yet it has caused so much pain and anguish among different political parties. There have been several court cases attempting to stop Zuma’s return to politics with the latest being a ruling by the Constitutional Court barring him from running for Parliament.

All the political machinations to stop Zuma from contesting elections are justified. The past few weeks have proven how huge a threat he is to the African National Congress’ ambition to extend its stay in power. For purposes of context, while the ANC has suspended him, he remains a member of the ruling party and he claims that he is only fronting his uMkhonto we Sizwe party to fix the problems in the ANC.

The polls thus far show that his party may attain anything between 14% and 20% of the overall votes, which would cause a huge dent in ANC’s ability to win the majority. But his party thinks that it is poised for a two-thirds majority vote in Parliament which will allow them to deliver the next president for South Africa. Whatever the situation is going to be, the reality is that Zuma’s second coming is and will be historic given that his party is only less than six months old and yet it has managed to cause so much damage to the political landscape.

Again, just for context, in South Africa, people do not vote for a president but the party that wins the majority in Parliament will deliver the next president. This means that if the ANC fails to get more than 50% of the votes, its ability to deliver the next president will be impaired and will depend on a coalition with other parties. As it stands, the polls show that the ANC may secure between 33 and 43% of the votes, a scenario that will not allow it to automatically provide a president without going into a coalition with one or more parties.

There are various schools of thought as to why the ANC will likely lose the majority vote. One is, of course, the return of Zuma to politics, while the other is how the black population has been frustrated over the decades by ANC’s inability to deliver. The reality is that Zuma or not, the ANC support base has been declining. In the last local government elections, it attained less than 50% and the return of Zuma is only eating into what remains of the ANC. Generally, the people of South Africa have been increasingly frustrated by the lack of response to their needs by their government. There is a narrative that the situation for ordinary citizens was better when he was in power than now.

The performance or lack thereof of the ANC aside. Let us look at how the  Zuma factor became a major threat to the status quo. When I was a young boy visiting the village in Mashonaland Central, my maternal uncles used to tell folklore stories one of which was about an animal called chitsere (ratel or cape badger). Chitsere is a short-legged omnivore that emits a very definite pungent smell but is also known for its resilience. According to my uncles, when attacking chitsere, you hit it on the head once and if you do it twice, it would rise and fight back dangerously. Whether this was true or just folklore, I would not know but the lesson was that sometimes when your enemy goes down after you hit him, it is better to walk away.

This seems to be the story of Zuma and ANC. Since he left power, he has never rested, and many people wonder why there is so much attention on him instead of the government focusing on addressing national issues. Zuma has been dragged to court, perhaps more than anyone else in the country on a wide range of allegations none of which have been proven in a court of law. The ANC had a good opportunity to let him rest in his village in Mkandla, KwaZulu Natal. But its continued attack on him pushed him to return to politics and the ANC seems to be the biggest loser on this. We wait to see what the new South African leadership will look like after this election.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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