by TINTSWALO BALOYI
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE continent’s oldest liberation movement is facing its worst dilemma as it turns a milestone 112 years old and with elections in South Africa on the horizon.
To expel former president Jacob Zuma (81) or keep him in the party is a predicament facing the African National Congress (ANC) as the local political terrain becomes toxic during a watershed electoral year.
This fallout between the ANC and Zuma, the former president of the party and country, is a major diverting incident further impacting on the party’s election prospects at a time it is also losing favour amid economic challenges and corruption.
Zuma is the most controversial and divisive of the ANC’s leaders. Persistently, he is the source of a perennial king-sized headache for the governing party.
Things took a worse turn late on December 16- Reconciliation Day- when he announced that he would not be campaigning for the ANC under the leadership of his predecessor and main rival, Cyril Ramaphosa (71).
Instead, in the coming elections, Zuma has endorsed the newly-registered splinter ruling faction, Umkhonto we Sizwe (translates to Spear of the Nation and abbreviated MK). During apartheid, it was the ANC’s paramilitary wing, but disbanded when independence was attained in 1994.
ANC is provoked at Zuma’s and his sympathisers’ registering the breakaway party as MK.
At the launch of the MK in Soweto, Johannesburg, Zuma argued the ANC had become dictatorial under Ramaphosa and betrayed the ideals of the liberation struggle and resolutions of the party, among them to economically empower the black majority.
“I have decided that I cannot, and will not campaign for the ANC of Ramaphosa in 2024. My conscience will not allow me to lie to the people of South Africa,” Zuma said.
Some ANC officials have reportedly ditched the party for MK.
Despite his allegiance with MK, Zuma claims he remains a member of the ANC.
Relations between the two men have been hostile since Ramaphosa succeeded Zuma as ANC president when the latter’s term lapsed in 2017, after two five-year terms.
Zuma maintains Ramaphosa’s camp used money to influence voting delegates. Ramaphosa won ahead of the Zuma faction that backed his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as president.
A year later, Ramaphosa ascended to the presidency of the country after Zuma, facing impeachment by his own party, resigned following a string of controversies mainly the so-called state capture when the controversial Gupta family maintained influence on the government and manipulated policy formation.
In 2021, Zuma refused to appear before a commission of inquiry probing the scandal. His subsequent arrest led to riots that left more than 300 people dead.
Critics believe Ramaphosa’s faction of the ANC is influencing the judiciary to harass another faction of the party sympathetic to Zuma. Last year, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, was expelled from the ruling party on the back of corruption charges slapped against him.
Magashule has since formed the African Congress for Transformation (ACT).
This week, a war of words flew between Zuma and the ruling party, during what was supposed to be an iconic period for the ANC.
The eastern province of Mpumalanga was the scene of the nasty exchanges. MK held a rally in the province, a provocative move considering that is where the ANC was holding its anniversary.
Zuma reiterated his salvo against Ramaphosa and the governing party.
He took a swipe at Ramaphosa following the current president’s legal woes emanating from the multimillion-dollar scandal at Ramaphosa private farm. It is alleged vast amounts of undeclared forex were stolen at the president’s farm but the matter was swept under the carpet.
Zuma was again on the MK campaign trail of the MK last Friday when he addressed members of the other new opposition All African Alliance Movement (AAAM), formed by church leaders in 2022.
The ex-president also questioned the transparency of South Africa’s electoral process.
ANC hit back through its motor mouth Secretary-General, Fikile Mbalula, who felt Zuma had betrayed the party, following the unwavering support given him during the latter’s long-running tussle with the opposition over corruption allegations and the scandal around the use of state coffers to upgrade the then president’s private homestead in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
Mbalula was in his address saying the ruling party even lied to Parliament in its defence of Zuma over the upgrades.
“You could see that these were lies; it’s very difficult to explain lies. People lost their careers because of that thing,” Mbalula said.
“It (case) went to the constitutional court and, while we were voting, Mogoeng Mogoeng (former chief justice) in a damning judgment said (Zuma) was not fit for office. We still defended him but, today, he says he cannot tolerate (President Cyril Ramaphosa), who has not been issued with a damning judgment,” he said.
By this gaffe, Mbalula has left his party in a lurch amid allegations of contempt of Parliament.
Zuma has also faced rape charges and was cleared.
His de-campaigning of the ANC has left the beleaguered party in a quandary.
ANC has the option of dismissing him from the party, as per its regulations. This would be a deterrent to other rebellious members.
Yet, expelling him could be suicidal, considering the following Zuma enjoys in the party. The former president is also a darling of the ANC in the KwaZulu Natal (KZN), the party’s biggest province, dominated by the most populous tribe, the Zulu.
Yet, by failure to take action, ANC could be setting a bad precedent.
Asked if Zuma would be expelled, Gwede Mantashe, ANC chairperson, said, “He is not expelled. He has walked away.”
This week, Ramaphosa scoffed at allegations of ill-health following widespread reports he had collapsed, leading to his failure to attend a church service in Mpumalanga where he was scheduled to address.
Contending with a rebellion within the party, a threat by a buoyant opposition and disillusioned electorate will not be an easy task.
In 2023, seven opposition parties sealed a coalition deal – Multi-Party Charter for South Africa- to oust the ANC, whose dominance is forecast to fall below 50 percent.
– CAJ News