Zuma returns as leader of new party challenging the ANC in KZN

South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma staged a surprise comeback at the head of an upstart party that is only a few months old but already the country’s third largest.

Zuma is 82, he was banned from standing in this week’s general election because of a contempt conviction and his former rule is synonymous with the capture of the state by corrupt interests.

But at the reins of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), a party founded barely eight months ago, he has taken a huge chunk out of the once untouchable ANC’s majority and stormed his home province.

On Friday afternoon, with 6 0 percent of the votes counted, Zuma’s MK was leading the ANC by 43 percent to 18 in the electoral battleground province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), a huge pool of votes.

In the national race, the newcomers had more than 12 percent, putting them in third behind the ANC, whose vote collapsed from more than 57 percent in 2019 to 42 percent on Wednesday, and the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA).

ANC vote dented

KZN, home to South Africa’s largest port and second largest city Durban, has previously always been run by the ANC or the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

So what explains the sudden turnaround?

“As anticipated, the MK has eaten into the ANC’s vote and dented into the IFP vote as well,” said Siphamandla Zondi, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg.

KwaZulu-Natal province, like most of the country has been affected by crippling power cuts, disruptions to water infrastructure and municipal mismanagement.

In addition, the ANC’s provincial leadership has been plagued with infighting and factionalism. Earlier this month the ANC Veterans League warned that “weak” leadership in the province may cost the party votes.

“Losing votes in KZN definitely affected the ANC nationally significantly because of the make up of the province and the population,” said Sihawukele Ngubane, African Languages professor at the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal (UKZN)

But Lubna Nadvi, a political analyst and UKZN politics lecturer, told AFP the ANC’s upset in KZN was not solely to blame for it losing major ground nationally.

“The fact that it’s fallen below 50 percent is because of its problematic performance in all of the different areas it has been governing,” she said.

Disillusioned KZN voters took action in groves because they were primarily seeking a change in leadership, according to analysts.

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