Zohra Teke - MK support driven by Zuma Effect

Is it his jiggy jiggy umshini wami dance? Is it the fierce loyalty to Zulu identity? Or is it simply unhappiness with the ANC? Zohra Teke explores how Jacob Zuma’s popularity drives MK Party’s support.

Is it his jiggy jiggy umshini wami dance? Is it the fierce loyalty to Zulu identity? Or is it simply unhappiness with the ANC? Zohra Teke explores how Jacob Zuma’s popularity drives MK Party’s support.

Published May 14, 2024


By Zohra Teke

With three weeks to the polls, former president Jacob Zuma and his MK Party continue to dominate elections coverage. And, despite internal party squabbles and legal challenges, those in the Zulu heartland of KwaZulu-Natal say they will stand by Zuma - and the MK Party, whatever the outcome of the court challenge.

Judgment has been reserved in the Electoral Commission appeal against Zuma contesting the elections. But, his supporters are not having it.

“They want to destroy him. We can’t allow that. We will protect him. Look what the ANC is doing. They let us down. It’s time for MK. We want change,” says one Zuma supporter, with her friends nodding in agreement.

It’s that powerful Zuma influence that triggered the ANC to rope in the big guns to woo voters in KZN. President Cyril Ramaphosa has made several pit stops around the province in recent weeks on his campaign trail.

“Of course we are nervous. KZN is huge for us and we can ignore the fact that Zuma has his support here. The ANC will lose KZN that for sure, it’s going to be a coalition which is not a good thing. Where coalitions rule service delivery suffers because parties don’t want other parties to take the credit for anything so nothing happens. That’s what will happen in KZN,” says one senior ANC leader.

And there are those who believe MK will soon fizzle out, that the party’s divisions are proof of it imploding, nearing its end.

It’s a fascinating insight into political games and who plays it. Media debates around MK often turn to Zuma’s former leadership as the country’s president - for two successive terms and question his current criticism of the ANC when he himself served under the party as president. But that has not dampened his popularity amongst his supporters. In fact, it appears to be on the rise with each battle thrown at him.

There’s a fervent sense of loyalty in those close to Zuma and the MK Party. To them, he embodies the underdog in the elections, championing the cause of those angered by the ANC, disillusioned by broken promises. And a vote for MK is the only weapon to punish that. Even though it’s a phenomenon that’s largely confined to KZN, it’s a province that has a massive voter base, enough to sway the national picture. And much of KZN is now staunch MK support.

“Thrown to the wolves, the leader of the pack”

It’s a spectacular playing field for MK. Just three months ago, Zuma was cast into the political wilderness, suspended from the ANC. Ironically, it was Zuma himself who once declared it’s cold out of the ANC.

And here we are, three months later, his MK Party polling at 13% of support, overtaking the EFF’s 10%. Some political pundits predict the party could emerge as the country’s third largest party and kingmaker in KZN.

Not too cold out of the ANC after all?

But until the results of the elections are announced, it’s all a guessing game. Elections are contests of numbers, but of all the new players, MK represents a game changer. That’s what makes it so exciting - much to the chagrin of other political parties, especially the ANC and EFF.

MK has shifted the political tectonic plates and shaken the political landscape. But to what extent will only be known after elections when the aftershocks will be felt.

The emergence of MK resembles the path of the EFF and its leader, Julius Malema, who was also banished from the ANC. Zuma’s fate seems sealed in the same way. As the adage says, “Throw me to the wolves and I’ll return, leading the pack.”

“People underestimate the power of president Zuma. He is absolutely loved by people. Forget those who try to discredit him, or those in urban areas. You just need to speak to ordinary people. Not politicians, academics or people like that. Ordinary workers and you will be surprised at how much support he has. MK is making waves and this election is going to shock a lot of people, just watch,” says key MK member Visvin Reddy.

The party’s election head, 41-year-old Muzi Ntshingila agrees, dismissing talk of the party’s demise amidst internal squabbles. “We are making many people uncomfortable. Removal of people from the party should not be seen as division. It’s the opposite, it’s a clean up operation and we knew it would happen. We knew we would be infiltrated, it’s the nature of politics and we were ready for it,” says Ntshingila.

On a final note, I can’t help but compare American president Joe Biden - 81 years old and also on an election campaign trail, and Zuma, 82 years of age. Biden is barely coherent, prone to bizarre behaviour, of unreliable memory, and very frail.

And then there’s Zuma, a year older, belting it out with his dance moves, driving men and women into a frenzy.

It’s definitely a Zuma effect.

* Zohra Teke is an investigative journalist and independent contributor.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.