by Nelson Nkosi

The return of Jacob Zuma to unite South Africa?

Le retour de Jacob Zuma pour unir l’Afrique du Sud ?

After six years of absence and numerous legal adventures, former President Jacob Zuma returns to the forefront in South Africa, at the helm of his new party MK.

In a country that is sociologically fractured and economically exhausted, Zuma could well, if not the providential man, embody harmony. To everyone's surprise, December 2023 saw the birth of MK (uMkhonto we Sizwe), a UFO on the current political scene which wants to embody on a political and symbolic level the continuity of the former armed branch of the ANC (African National Congress). ). This movement is currently led by Jacob Zuma, former president of the country under the banner of the ANC from 2009 to 2018.

The man and the party emerge in a context of increased tensions and economic uncertainties, promising to redraw the political landscape of a South Africa with the highest unemployment rate in the world (33%).

Jacob Zuma is an emblematic figure in South African politics. His political involvement began in 1959 when he joined the ANC and was strengthened with his membership in uMkhonto we Sizwe, the military branch, in 1962. Arrested the same year, he spent ten years on the prison island of Robben Island, thus marking his commitment against the segregationist regime of apartheid.

After his release, Zuma lived in exile, contributing to the ANC from bases in Swaziland and Mozambique before settling in as head of the ANC's intelligence department in Lusaka, Zambia. Returning to South Africa with the lifting of the ban on the ANC in 1990, he quickly rose through the ranks of the party, becoming vice-president of the ANC in 1997, then vice-president of the nation in 1999 under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki.

Zuma's presidency, from 2009 to 2018, was marked by successes and controversies, including accusations of corruption and sometimes criticized economic policies. However, his policies on HIV/AIDS and his contribution to South Africa's integration into the BRICS group are seen as strengths of his tenure. His presidency ended with his resignation in 2018, under pressure from his own party and following accusations of corruption linked to the Gupta family, a case of “state capture” which deeply marked the administration.

The return of the President

His return to politics through MK appears aimed at reconquering an electoral base disillusioned with the current leadership of the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa, which is struggling to meet the expectations of its voters. The MK, already credited with 15% in recent polls, continues to climb and could well be the key to a future coalition government, a first for the country.

The party appears to capture a significant portion of the ANC's traditional electorate, the same one that is disappointed by current economic results and broken promises. The involvement of many former elected officials and ANC loyalists in MK signals a deep schism within the historic party, with major implications for its future.

Zuma, despite his controversial past, retains strong popularity among certain segments of the population, particularly in rural areas and among Zulu communities. Its return could therefore not only disrupt the current political dynamic, but also offer a form of continuity with the era when the ANC was seen as the champion of the oppressed.

Moreover, Zuma's intelligent positioning, populist and catch-all, will allow him to ally himself with the ANC, but also with any of the opposition parties. The May 29 general election promises to be a crucial barometer for South Africa's future. With the ANC in a weak position and the MK on the rise, the political landscape seems on the cusp of a transformation.

If Zuma succeeds, he could not only return to power but also redefine political alliances in a nation seeking renewal and stability. The ANC, for its part, finds itself at a critical crossroads. MK's rise and Zuma's newfound popularity represent a major challenge, which could either revitalize the party through necessary introspection or lead it to irreversible fragmentation. In this context, the next election will not simply be a test of popularity, but a real judge of the peace for the future of the ANC and, by extension, for that of South Africa itself.