Friday, June 21, 2024

South Africa elections: Former President Jacob Zuma cites Mandela as he holds rally in African National Congress’s heartland

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He is hours late to arrive and address the 37,000 seat stadium heaving with his supporters but when former president Jacob Zuma starts to sing, the spell is recast.

“The struggle has been long. Mandela told his followers that we will meet on Freedom Day,” he sings in Zulu as the hypnotised crowd sings along.

“This is Freedom Day.”

The emblem of his new party towers above him. A warrior carrying a spear and shield under the name uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the “Spear of the Nation”.

Mr Zuma, 82, was president for nine years and deputy president for six

Originally, the name of the paramilitary wing of the African National Congress (ANC) that Mr Zuma joined in the fight to liberate South Africa from Apartheid in 1962.

South Africans have been free for 30 years under the ANC and he has since defected from the party.

Thousands of his die-hard supporters from Mr Zuma's home province and stronghold KwaZulu-Natal arrived at the Orlando Stadium before sunrise
Thousands of his die-hard supporters arrived at the Orlando Stadium

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In the lead-up to the most consequential election since the vote to end Apartheid in 1994, Mr Zuma is turning the spear on his vulnerable former party in their heartland Soweto.

“Those in charge right now have lost direction and can’t allow that to happen,” he tells the crowd.

“You have to stand up as a man and face what is broken.”

The former president sang to the hypnotised crowds in Zulu
The former president sang to the crowds in Zulu

Buses with thousands of his die-hard supporters from his home province and stronghold KwaZulu-Natal arrived at the Orlando Stadium in the iconic township before the sun had risen.

“MK is for the truth, ANC has done nothing for us,” one woman yells to us from the stalls.

Growing frustrations around soaring unemployment, power cuts and corruption have threatened the ANC’s ruling majority for the first time since South Africa voted for them in 1994.

Mr Zuma is unlikely to win with his small new party but is splitting votes at a time when the ANC is losing its grip on power – and this rally in the ANC’s backyard, the large voting bloc of Gauteng, was the twist of the knife.

“His run will impact the ANC if the MK party makes it in one piece to the elections. This impact will be most pronounced in two key areas, namely Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces,” says Dr TK Pooe, public policy specialist from the Wits School of Governance.

“Both provinces are South Africa’s two largest voting blocs accounting for over forty-percentage of voters. In both provinces the ANC could lose actual government power and thus possibly need the MK party to survive.”

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So at 82 years old with nine years as president and six years as deputy president under his belt, why is Mr Zuma doing this?

“Political, and self-survival,” says Dr Pooe.

“The former president still has many legal cases hanging over his head and the quickest way to ensure some form of survival is to have some form of workable currency to negotiate with.”

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