What makes MK an option for voters?


What makes MK an option for voters?

On May 29, voters could transfer their political allegiances on a scale that could bring about a power shift in the legislatures, writes PIET CROUCAMP.


ONE day, years ago, I told Gwede Mantashe that Afrikaners could vote for the ANC quite easily. All the Union Buildings and Luthuli House had to do was “govern well and govern fairly".

I think my footnote argument was: “Afrikaners are as conservative as most black South Africans and the common denominator is good government." Somewhere in my argument I claimed Afrikaners were no “liberals" and they had taken refuge in the DA only as a bulwark against the ANC; the blue party was no more than a temporary haven.

In hindsight I may not have been quite right, but the question of what it will take for a combustible mass psychosis to reconstruct the tectonic plates of political identity in South Africa is more pertinent than ever. We already have statistical evidence that South Africans are withdrawing their political participation in elections on a significant scale. Less than 40% of eligible voters turned up at the municipal polls in 2021.

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Ardent political migrants

The question is, are political parties aware that voters might migrate between them in 2024 on a scale that could trigger a power shift in legislatures? Contrary to what many of us sometimes think and argue, South Africans are avid migrants when it comes to political interests and choice of party.

To date, the most significant change in voting behaviour has involved the emergence of new parties due to internal conflicts within the ANC and to a lesser extent the DA. But in the Western Cape, the coloured vote clearly migrates. As a voting bloc, it has been with the National Party, the ANC and finally the DA. And if political history and the recent opinion polls in KwaZulu-Natal are read as a prediction, there are clear signs of a migratory political outlook there too.

The question is, what are the political and economic impulses in the frontal lobe of a voter that would motivate the need for regime change? What gave rise to a significant part of the KZN electorate leaving the conservative IFP for the corrupt ANC and now seeming to be prepared to migrate further to the militant politics of MK?

It is a well-known argument that the hijacked and corrupt ANC hugely benefits from opposition parties' failure to convince voters that there is life after the liberation struggle. But the desperate circumstances of millions of unemployed South Africans and a middle class increasingly under unsustainable pressure may be providing the oxygen needed for the mass psychosis that would send enough voters to urgently searching for a non-ANC alternative.

MK’s momentum

If the opinion polls of the past month become a reality, it would mean a significant number of KZN voters had identified a new political home that few analysts could have foreseen with the establishment of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party in December. According to the polls, MK could attract support from the ANC, but also from the EFF and the IFP.

The momentum we detect at MK still may not necessarily answer the question of what it would take for a majority of South Africans to migrate to an alternative political party, but it may be an indication of the type of populism that would influence voting patterns in KZN  and perhaps in other provinces.

We already know that the ANC president, Cyril Ramaphosa, with the Luthuli House management and the national working committee of his party, had to make several visits to KZN to settle disputes and/or put out political fires. The alienating effect of competing factions cannot be ignored. The ANC leadership corps in KZN is aware that since Jacob Zuma's unceremonious departure, the province has not been able to get an authoritative representative into Luthuli House.

Royal house factor

The distinction between rural and urban politics in KZN pulled the political rug from under the IFP in 2004, and it remains an unpredictable variable in this province. The support of the monarch and traditional leaders has always been an important political factor. The royal house of Misuzulu kaZwelithini enjoyed the good faith of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but in December the high court in Pretoria declared Ramaphosa's official recognition of Buthelezi's royal choice as “procedurally invalid".

The question now is to what extent the exponential growth of the MK Party is attributable to the struggle for control of the royal house. By 2004, the IFP had not only lost its absolute majority in the province's legislature, but the ANC under Zuma's influence had succeeded in adding the support of traditional leaders to its urban support base. Suddenly, KZN was ANC territory; Luthuli House had won the ethnic battle. The IFP's rural support base had largely migrated to a rival political home in Durban and Johannesburg. By 2014, even the DA had taken over from the IFP as the official opposition.

The 2022 leadership conference

The December 2022 leadership conference of the ANC dragged a further complicating variable into the algorithm of contradictions. The fragmentation of the political hegemony in KZN led to Siboniso Duma being elected as the provincial chairperson of the ANC in July 2022. He is also the MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs in the KZN government. He gained political prominence as a militant member of the ANC Youth League in the province. He has served in the KZN legislature since 2014 and sits on the executive council of the premier, Nomusa Dube-Ncube.

I was right at the front of the hall when, in a theatrical gesture, Duma was the first to take the stage to shake Ramaphosa's hand after his re-election as leader of the party. Diagonally behind me, disguised in a green woollen cap, Zweli Mkhize stared blankly at the events. It was clear from the murmurs among a section of the congress that Duma's gesture was deemed nothing less than a Judas kiss. Duma does not necessarily hold dear the interests of Zuma, but his resentment towards Ramaphosa was and still is as clear as day.

On July 24 2022, shortly after his election as provincial leader, Duma had great difficulty convincing the KZN conference to give Ramaphosa an opportunity to conclude its proceedings without a fuss. As Ramaphosa walked into the hall, the conference chanted, “Wenzeni uZuma?" (What has Zuma done?), while some ostentatiously turned their backs on Ramaphosa and the stage.

But sometimes I wonder if Zuma is not just a Trojan horse. Does the resentment of Ramaphosa any longer have to do with the estrangement between the provincial executive committee of the ANC and Luthuli House? The fickle traditional leaders and the royal house of the province are quite generously pampered by the national and provincial budgets.

The contradictions continue. The great gunslingers in the taxi industry are relatives of Zuma and their interest is in the political survival of Duma. They not only control the logistics value chain of passenger transport in the province, but also have an iron grip on its security industry. Ironically, the warlords of the taxi industry have no interest in political volatility. It was them who publicly pleaded and threatened that the unrest of July 2021 had to come to an immediate end, for the sake of the KZN economy.

In the context of the bigger picture, South Africans have been migrating between political parties and interest groups for two decades. That is why I find it comical when white friends tell me: “Black people will always vote for the ANC." Like the coloured vote in the Western Cape which once opted for the National Party and finally shifted via the ANC to the DA, the Zulus from the last outpost have a migratory political past. They were IFP, shifted their interests to the ANC, and if the opinion polls are to be believed, may just be heading elsewhere again. MK this time?

Niehaus and Manyi

By the way, it is clear that Zuma, Jabulani Khumalo and the former president's politically militant daughter, Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, were unable to convince Carl Niehaus and Mzwanele Manyi of MK's growth potential at the end of 2023. Because Niehaus, in particular, would not have passed up the opportunity to join his mentor's political movement.

Manyi and Niehaus stick out like sore thumbs in the EFF, but for different reasons. If MK and the EFF finally decide to enter an alliance, these two opportunists will be natural bridge builders.

♦ VWB ♦

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