Zohra Teke: ‘Zuma doesn’t need to be in Parliament’

Zohra Teke. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Zohra Teke. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Published May 21, 2024


By Zohra Teke

Screaming headlines around the world relayed the judgment of Zuma’s defeat in the Constitutional Court, in typical hysterical style because, of course, this is Zuma. His 15-month sentence in 2021 was cited as grounds for disqualifying him from serving in Parliament.

But, while his detractors celebrate and predict his final political downfall following the outcome, the MK party is seeing it as an opportunity to further their game plan. So excluding him from the 7th Parliament in democratic South Africa is likely to bolster his popularity among his support base.

There’s something about Zuma which draws in his supporters. And despite spin around his failed presidency and the ANC’s combative attacks on him, he continues to wield influence.

Considerable influence. Drawing a crowd of almost 40,000 over the weekend at the party’s manifesto launch in Soweto was a defiant middle finger to the ANC. He wanted to prove his influence went beyond KZN. That he can still call the shots.

EFF / MK party talks

So does the latest court judgment signal the end of the road for him? Will it put his political ambitions to rest? Can the ANC finally count on KZN?

Will Zuma heed the wishes of his son Duduzane and retreat into his Nkandla homestead, doing what he should be doing at his ripe age of 82? Will he be looking after his cattle among his pastures, enjoying the majestic Zululand plains with its picturesque sunsets?

I imagine Zuma giving me his trademark “he he he” belly laugh if I were to suggest all this to him. I imagine him saying “Nkaaaaandla?” followed by more “he he he” laughter as he straightens his glasses over his nose. Because disappearing into the Zululand sunset is not the Zuma way. Never was. Even when faced with the growls of the EFF to pay back the money, he stared them in the eye, responded with his laugh and refused to back down. And that’s how he rolls. A proud Zulu warrior who does not back down.

And that explains why the MK is already in serious talks with the EFF to clinch a coalition deal. With or without Zuma in Parliament, they’re not about to back down. But, it’s going to be a tall order, as both parties combined are still below the 50% magic threshold - unless of course they bring in other parties willing to join them. And then begins political horse trading.

The EFF has already made it clear - it would give its support to the ANC to keep it in power under one condition - make EFF deputy Floyd Shivambu the Finance Minister - a request the ANC is unlikely to heed. The MK has ruled out coalition talks with the ANC or the DA.

So, Zuma not going to Parliament is unlikely to change the party’s trajectory of disrupting the political playing field.

“We are going to support Zuma, even if he is not in Parliament”

“As MK, Zuma is the leader, that does not mean he has to be in Parliament. He was never going to be in Parliament, because if he were to become MP that would mean an end to his benefits as a former president. Our goal is a two-thirds majority, not for Zuma to be an MP.

We want him as president. This ruling simply proves what we have been saying: Zuma is a victim and the judgment proves that. This will only make him more popular and further our goals as a party,” MK party member Visvin Reddy told IOL.

And hours after the judgment, there was a sense of anger and fierce protectiveness around Zuma.

“They want to destroy him, they won’t. We are going to support Zuma even if he is not in Parliament. We know his party is MK and I will vote for it,” said 55-year-old Nozipho. It reflects the sentiment of his mainly rural support base, people who are driven by their loyalty to Zuma and what he represents to them. A traditional statesman, protector of their traditional values - never mind his charm and umshini wami dance.

The think-tank within the MK party is currently studying the judgment. But, it seems, they’re not fazed at Zuma’s exclusion from Parliament. In fact, they seem excited by its implication, seeing it as a weapon of information to portray Zuma as the victim, the martyr in politics. And it’s exactly what they wanted.

There are few more powerful rallying points in politics than an underdog. And that’s exactly what former president Jacob Zuma, leader of the MK party, projects to his fiercely loyal support base.

Zuma’s play into the elections under the MK party seems more of a disruption of the political landscape, an attempt to embarrass the ANC, to show his fortitude after his suspension from the party. He wants to be king, in his kingdom. And the court outcome does not determine that. His popularity does. His target is the ANC. And a humiliating defeat for them at the polls is what counts - with or without him in Parliament.

*Zohra Teke is an investigative journalist and independent contributor

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