July 20, 2024

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Behind the ‘Zuma tsunami’ in South Africa

3 min read

Elected, accused of corruption – fired, accused of rape – acquitted, elected president, accused of corruption again – denied again, ousted, imprisoned for contempt of court – freed, barred from becoming an MP.
For most politicians almost any of these punches would have proved fatal to their career, but not for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma.
Like a resolute prize-fighter, the 82-year-old former president may have been knocked down on occasions, but he has never been knocked out.
During the recent election campaign he has been doing his familiar dance and the results of last week’s vote show he still wields huge influence.
He is at the helm of a new party that took on the African National Congress (ANC), gaining 15% of the vote.
The results have been humiliating for the ANC, the liberation movement Mr Zuma once led, as it has lost its outright parliamentary majority for the first time in 30 years – and the “Zuma tsunami”, as it has been dubbed, is partly responsible.
In the centre of the coastal city of Durban, the main city in KwaZulu-Natal province, Mr Zuma’s smiling face beams down from virtually every street lamp on green-and-black election posters of his recently formed party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) or Spear of the Nation.
There is no doubting the octogenarian’s exalted status here in his heartland, where he is respected for upholding his cultural and traditional Zulu beliefs.
He is also lauded for his role as a peace broker during political violence in the early 1990s, which almost derailed the country’s transition to democracy.
And more than 20 years ago, he was credited with bringing voters in KwaZulu-Natal from the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party to the ANC.

This year he was able to take his loyal supporters with him to MK, which is named after the ANC’s former armed wing and holds huge political symbolism because of its role in fighting for the end of white-minority rule.
The launch of MK’s manifesto, a week before the 29 May election at a packed 40,000-seater stadium, was a clear signal that “uBaba” (father), as Mr Zuma is known, was back.
The sea of his supporters braving the scorching heat chanted: “Zuma! Zuma!”
One shouted: “Uyinsizwa nxamala”, which loosely translates from Zulu as “a fearless warrior who never backs down”.
On election day, arriving at his polling station, a modestly built primary school without flushing toilets, the MK party leader was greeted by hundreds of people who called out his clan names: “Msholozi, Nxamalala, Maphum’ephethe”.
The former president waved and smiled at them before entering a classroom to vote.
As he left the polling station, his supporters sang a pro-Zuma song in Zulu made popular several years ago when the former president was accused of corruption.
One refrain they belted out translates as: “What has Zuma done? You’re influenced by propaganda from so-called white monopoly capital.”
Many politicians can rely on a loyal core of backers, but Mr Zuma’s ability to genuinely connect with the poor and marginalised is what sets him apart.
And this may explain his enduring popularity despite facing numerous scandals and damning accusations.
Six years ago, it seemed that his luck had finally run out when he was forced from the presidency, following a litany of corruption allegations, which he denied.
Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as president and Mr Zuma became a political pariah and a damaged brand.

By Nomsa Maseko

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