Michael J. Braun: The secret behind Zuma and MK Party’s organisational success

Dr Michael J. Braun. Picture: Supplied

Dr Michael J. Braun. Picture: Supplied

Published May 28, 2024


It remains to be seen whether the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party led by former president Jacob Zuma will be the largest party in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) at the May 29 National and Provincial elections, as forecast in a recent poll.

However, in 6 months the party appears to have developed local party structures and a strong following which would make this result much less surprising than it appeared when Zuma announced his support for the party on 2023, December 16.

KZN is the epicentre of support for the MK Party due to the continued popularity of Jacob Zuma despite numerous allegations of corruption and a Constitutional Court ruling that barred him from parliament due to a contempt of court conviction.

Despite this, his picture appears on the ballot for the MK Party as a reminder for those who still support him and believe he has been unjustly targeted by the courts, media, and the ANC.

Within the ANC, Jacob Zuma was a key organiser that allowed the party to wrest control of KZN from the Inkatha Freedom Party in 2004. He became the first Zulu president of the country in 2009 and established KZN as a key support base for the ANC in national elections.

The electoral battleground of KZN is home to 20.7% of South Africa’s registered voters, so the results there will play an important role in deciding the national balance of power in the 2024 elections which may see ANC lose majority support for the first time in the country’s 30-year democratic history.

The political terrain in KZN was ripe for the growth of a new opposition party. Between the 2014 and 2019 elections, the number of registered non-voters in KZN increased by almost 700,000, as ANC voters abandoned the party after Jacob Zuma was removed from the presidency in favour of current President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Economic Freedom Fighters made some inroads in the 2019 elections, but there were many more who chose to remain at home rather than vote for any of the available options.

When Jacob Zuma announced his support for the MK Party on December 16 volunteers immediately flocked to the party via WhatApp groups according to several MK Party organisers I spoke to in KZN’s largest municipality of eThekwini.

Some had previously been members of the ANC or the MK Party’s namesake, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC paramilitary wing which was disbanded before the 1994 elections.

Other local organisers had not been involved in politics but were dissatisfied with the status quo, such as a local pastor I met with from the Molweni township west of Durban.

He said that the MK Party WhatsApp group for his ward had grown to over 1000 members, and his volunteers had signed up approximately 4000 party members in his relatively small township.

Despite little funding from the upper structures of the party, they had the necessary volunteers to hold weekly ‘visibility’ campaigns at the nearby shopping centre to give the party a strong local presence in the area.

In this way, their campaigning has replicated some of the local mobilisation tactics used by the ANC and the EFF to gain support in South Africa’s black townships.

The MK Party’s ability to organise at the grassroots level separates the MK Party from many of the other new parties courting dissatisfied voters in the upcoming elections.

On May 25 , the MK Party held a regional mini-rally in Hammarsdale whose attendance was delivered by the interim branches it had formed in townships across eThekwini municipality.

Each of these branches campaign in their ward to increase the party’s visibility, and is tasked with sending party agents to each voting station with printed copies of the voter registration rolls to assist with potential voters.

There was also a large contingent of supporters in army fatigues, including those who identified as former members of the apartheid era Umkhonto we Sizwe paramilitary organisation.

The grassroots presence of MK Party, its large imprint on social media, and high polling numbers all contribute to the sense amongst party activists and voters that they have a viable chance to gain political power.

Party members attending the Hammarsdale event were confident they would be the largest party in KZN and were emboldened by the party’s rallying cry to achieve a 2/3 majority at the national level which would allow it to change the constitution.

Changing the constitution would be needed to allow Jacob Zuma to return to the Presidency, and party activists asserted that it would allow them to establish an ‘African’ political system in contrast to existing ‘Dutch and English’ laws.

Even though the goal of a national 2/3 majority is extremely unlikely, the impressive campaign organisation it has developed in its short life has made the party a viable contender for the votes of dissatisfied South Africans, particularly in KZN and Mpumalanga provinces with large Zulu- speaking populations.

With opposition parties raising similar bread-and-butter issues such as load-shedding, unemployment, and service delivery, MK has distinguished itself amongst countless new parties with a powerful and recognisable brand under the leadership of Jacob Zuma.

This has given them the volunteers to mount a widespread campaign to convince voters that they could bring the ‘change’ that many South Africans are desperately seeking these elections.

* Dr Michael J. Braun is a Centennial Postdoctoral Fellow at Wits University

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.

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