The true ideology of the MK Party


The true ideology of the MK Party

It is not impossible for the MKP to eventually grow a 25%-30% support base and succeed the ANC as South Africa's liberation party, writes PIET CROUCAMP.


PIETER MALAN, the editor of Weekliks in Rapport, recently wrote to me: “Where are those who have been predicting for decades that the ANC would split along ideological lines? Strange, now that the ANC is splitting they are keeping quiet. Now they are talking about the ANC being defeated at the polls. I maintain that they have not been defeated and that the party has split. And it did not happen as predicted, along ideological lines."

I don't know if Malan is right, but the reasons for the splintering of COPE, the EFF and now also the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) from a 112-year-old liberation movement are worth some analysis. If you add up the votes of the EFF, ANC and MKP in the 2024 election, the ANC would still be sitting pretty in the National Assembly had there been no splintering.

But Malan is probably right that it is difficult to describe the fragmentation of the liberation movement — or the ANC — as the aftermath of ideological contradictions. Perhaps it is better to think of the rise of the MKP as the manifestation of a set of competing ideas that have been fermenting in plain sight.

It is not difficult to find verifiable evidence for the alienation, systemic injustice and institutional marginalisation experienced by the political elites of KwaZulu-Natal and the ordinary people in urban as well as rural areas. KZN's marginalisation in the decision-making structures of the ANC was already a point of discussion during the first election of Cyril Ramaphosa as party leader in 2018.

But, I console myself, the ANC as a collective — and specifically the leadership — also has no idea how the party got to the point where it effectibely lost an election and now has to stand at the liberal back door of John Steenhuisen in an attempt to form a government of national unity. We understand the discord that led to the emergence of COPE (the dismissal of Thabo Mbeki) and the EFF (the disciplinary hearing of Julius Malema), but the rise of the MKP is a significantly more difficult question.

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By the way, it is amazing that the ANC's intelligence structures — quite intertwined with those of national intelligence — clearly did not detect the pre-natal political presence of the MKP. In South Africa, as in any other national jurisdiction, intelligence almost always has political consequences, but our intelligence structures are so riddled with internal contradictions and corruption that the American CIA and even the FBI know more about the country's underground and organised crime than police minister Bheki Cele.

But let's start at the end. I agree with the director of Political Futures Consultancy, Daniel Silke, that whatever led to the fire-breathing rise of the MKP, it was not a gruelling road to Damascus experience among part of the ANC's leadership. It was, for example, certainly not an ideological response to finance minister Enoch Godongwana or Ramaphosa's pragmatism towards “neoliberalism".

The move away from the ANC to the MKP is largely in KZN, so not a general phenomenon that indicates a split within the party's national support base. At first glance, it would appear that the massive loss of support for the ANC in KZN was the result of a set of competing ideas that came to life within the ANC. The alienation, and the experience of injustice, victimhood and marginalisation, provided the source material for the MKP, with minimal persuasion, to get 2,344,309 people to vote for a new party with a historical military connection.

The MKP is not the result of ideological differences and disputes in Luthuli House. The populism and ideological preferences of the MKP provide ways for the fighting renegades to define themselves, but the manifesto of Jacob Zuma's new political home is as predictable as an unregistered shelf company and can possibly also be understood as a reactionary response to Ramaphosa's  “renewal” project. In fact, the MKP leadership's fixation with Ramaphosa can be traced directly to his role in Zuma's humiliating “recall" as president of South Africa.

Despite allegations of Russian funding, the MKP did not really have the financial capacity to launch an extensive grassroots propaganda campaign. The party's support base and its political leadership know exactly what their grievances are, but they will need time to formulate an ideological consensus. Incidentally, there is not really a substantial ideological difference between the political troubles of the current chairperson of the ANC's provincial executive committee, Siboniso Duma — which led to the rift between him and Ramaphosa — and the emergence of the MKP. Not all ANC members who are sympathetic to Zuma have  defected to the MKP.

The MKP's policy points of departure and election themes include that the constitution is the product of a colonial logic, with roots in Roman-Dutch law and without the necessary understanding of African justice. The party wants to hold a referendum to scrap the 1996 constitution and replace it with a parliamentary system with or without a codified constitution. In fact, it wants to tear up the constitution. However, this radical stance is more a reaction to Zuma's perpetual, Stalingrad-like struggle in the courts than it is an ideological point of departure.

In terms of policy and legislation, the MKP believes in the expropriation of all land without compensation and the transfer of property rights to the people under the supervision of the state and traditional leadership. The MKP blames the ANC for failing black economic empowerment for businesses owned by individuals in marginalised communities, including black people, women and young entrepreneurs. Some analysts claim that the decay of the supply and value chains in KZN due to systemic corruption and the lack of economic growth is a specific source of alienation among tenderpreneurs within the ANC which now forms the core of the MKP's resentment.

Like the ANC, the MKP wants to implement National Health Insurance as a tool to redistribute resources away from the expensive private health system. The party also wants to establish a state pharmaceutical company to break the power of the private “capitalist monopoly". Party leaders argue that the state should create jobs for everyone willing and able to work for a minimum wage of R4,500. The party also stands in solidarity with Palestine.

Wikipedia refers to the supposed ideological frame of reference of the MKP as “left-wing populism", also called social populism. This party is still too new for academics to wrap their brains around its raison d'etre. By the way, The American Conservative refers to the DA as “moderately left-wing". So, don't get carried away with your own understanding of ideological rhetoric. Nevertheless, the typical ideas of left-wing populism include an aversion to ruling elites and elitism, the stigmatisation of the existing political and economic order (anti-establishment), and claims to represent communities marginalised by the establishment.

Recurring themes and concepts are economic democracy, social justice and a dash of scepticism towards globalisation. Socialist theory plays a smaller role in populism than in traditional left-wing ideologies. Should Jabulani Khumalo and Zuma finally settle their petty differences, I have a ready-made ideological framework for them.

A few political “polecats" have tried left-wing populism with some success at the ballot box, but in the process destroyed their countries' gross national product. In Latin America's Bolivia, the Movement for Socialism, led by by Evo Morales, has won several elections since 2006. Hugo Chávez and his United Socialist Party of Venezuela are another example from that part of the world; the same applies to Ecuador, where Rafael Correa's Alianza PAIS won several elections between 2006 and 2017. In Greece, Syriza, led by Aléxis Tsípras, won the 2015 general election.

Richard Poplak of Daily Maverick quite rightly describes the ideological theory of the MKP and ultimately the ANC as an “ethno-nationalist mélange of feudalism, socialism and hardcore paternalism". Almost every pursuit of the MKP can be traced back to ethnic nationalism and the feudalism and paternalism of traditional authority. And precisely because of this, it is not impossible that the MKP can eventually grow a 25%-30% support base and take over from the ANC as South Africa's liberation party.

But it is also possible that corruption, tenderpreneurship and state capture have eroded the philosophy of liberation and that the fragmentation we experienced with COPE, the EFF and the MKP are the centripetal forces of greed and power politics. The MKP's roots probably have something to do with the resignation of Zuma in 2018, but the violence of 2021 in KZN was certainly the incubator in which the MKP's genealogy fermented.

Now, after the conclusion of the 2024 elections, the MKP still holds the sword of 2021 over South Africans' heads. In the silence of my inner room, however, I am eternally grateful to Zuma and his political cronies for the ANC's 40% low point.

♦ VWB ♦

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