Who is Jacob Zuma and What Does His Party’s Manifesto Mean for South Africa

In recent months, the South African populace has become the audience to a renewed legal squabble between Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa’s rising uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress (ANC). 

A Renewed Legal Battle?:

After serving nine years as President, Jacob Zuma was made to step down at the behest of the ANC in February 2018. Zuma’s loss of position was the result of two long-standing claims, the first dating back to 1999, when Zuma was serving as Deputy President under Thabo Mbeki. 

1999 Thales (Thomson-CSF) Arms Deal: 

During his time as Deputy President, Zuma was accused of annually accepting $34,000 dollar bribes from businessman Schabir Shaik in exchange for protecting weapons manufacturer Thomson-CSF (now known as Thales) from an investigation into a deal to supply military hardware to South Africa.

Shaik was convicted in 2005, and despite Judge Hillary Squires’ 165-page verdict finding ‘overwhelming’ evidence of a corrupt relationship between Zuma and Shaik, Zuma is yet to stand trial for the 16 charges of fraud, money laundering, and racketeering he is accused of. 

The country’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has accused Zuma of utilizing a ‘protracted defense strategy’ to avoid facing trial. This defense includes repeated attempts to remove prosecutor Billy Downer from the case. Zuma has submitted two applications to two different judges to remove downer from the prosecuting team, as well as submitting a criminal case against Downer, which was struck down by the NPA on the grounds that Zuma was abusing the court process. 

‘Zupta’ State Capture: 

The second and most consequential claim against Zuma pertains to his dealings with three members of the influential Gupta business family. Originally from India, the family moved to South Africa in 1993 and began building their business empire. 

State capture refers to ‘a type of systematic corruption whereby narrow interest groups take control of the institutions and processes through which public policy is made, directing public policy away from the public interest and instead shaping it to serve their own interests.’

The onset of Zuma’s Presidency in 2009 and his subsequent dealings with the Guptas resulted in the ‘Zupta’ label. 

According to National Treasury deputy director-general Ismail Momoniat, with guidance from the Guptas, President Zuma’s primary objective “[was to] access the procurement budgets of the public sector. The largest of these budgets are with state-owned entities (SOEs), especially Eskom (power), Transnet (logistics and freight), PRASA (commuter trains), Denel (defense) and SAA (airline) contracts. Secondary targets were the smaller departmental procurement budgets, those with larger capital or IT budgets, or pools of big funds, like the State Pension Fund.

Together with the Gupta family, [Zuma] started to implement a systematic plan for the state capture of key state-owned entities by November 2010.  Implementation was effected by the appointment of a willing Minister to oversee state-owned entities. This Minister immediately (and skillfully) created the climate for capture by promoting an aggressive political and transformation framework that concealed the questionable appointments he made and deflected criticisms of measures that undermined good governance practices and judiciary responsibilities.

The boards of the large SOEs were replaced by pliant boards, key positions being reserved for Gupta collaborators, like the chair of the board and of key subcommittees related to audit and risk management. Board tender committees, chaired by Gupta loyalists, were established or repurposed to award tenders. The top management of the departments/agencies that posed a barrier or threat to capture were replaced, including the National Prosecution Agency, the police and the State Revenue Service (SARS). Prominent ministers who resisted state capture were replaced. Pliant firms to audit SOEs were appointed. 

In addition, key governmental decision-making processes were informalized. For example, the former President ensured that the big decisions were made outside Cabinet, and only brought to Cabinet when the President needed a decision (a parallel government). No documentation was provided to Cabinet to support key decisions, such as for the proposed nuclear deal or the Gupta banking accounts. The Ministry of Public Enterprises (responsible for oversight of SOEs) including its advisors operated verbally with no written records or directives.” 

Corruption Enquiry, July Riots, Ramaphosa Court Case:

As a result, in June 2021, Zuma was called to testify in a corruption enquiry into his supposed dealings while President. He refused to show and was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court, sparking riots throughout the month of July and leaving more than 300 dead. Zuma was later released by Ramaphosa on medical parole after serving just two months of his sentence. 

Zuma then attempted to take President Ramaphosa to court in December 2022, claiming he, alongside Advocate Billy Downer, leaked personal medical documents to the media. 

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has been charged in a private prosecution with the criminal offence of being accessory after the fact in the crimes committed by among others Advocate Downer namely, breaching the provisions of the NPA Act,” said the Jacob Zuma Foundation. 

President Ramaphosa slammed the accusations as being baseless, with the NPA claiming that Zuma was again attempting to get Downer removed from the prosecuting team on his corruption trial. 

The Current Legal Battle: 

In December last year, Zuma, who at the time was still a registered member of the ANC after serving as President under the ANC between 2009-2018, announced his support for the MK party. As a result, Zuma was suspended from the African National Congress in late January. 

In mid March, the ANC attempted to bar MK party from appearing on the country’s voting ballot through claims that the nation’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) accepted a supplemented registration application from the party. In addition to the first claim, the ANC asserted that the party had unlawfully made use of the uMkhonto weSizwe name and logo, as the name and logo originated from the ANC’s paramilitary wing and thus was only subject to use by the ANC. 

The IEC ruled in MK’s favor, prompting the ANC to launch an objection with the Electoral Court (EC) against three MK parliamentary candidates, including Zuma. 

The objection was based on a constitutional law which bars prospective candidates who have received a prison sentence of 12-months or longer from being eligible to run as a parliamentary candidate. 

Finally, in early April, the EC ruled that Zuma was indeed eligible to run as a parliamentary candidate and thus could appear on the nation’s voting ballot. 

MK’s Manifesto – Contradictions and Unanswered Questions:

The Electoral Court’s ruling has enabled Zuma, who had always been the de-facto leader of MK to officially take on the role, replacing former leader Jabulani Khumalo. 

With just 37 days until the country’s watershed general election, the MK has released its 2024 election manifesto, nearly a full month after the ANC and Democratic Alliance (DA) released theirs. 

The manifesto centers around 8 pillars, and holds the action of ‘reclaiming’ as key. 

Furthermore, the manifesto’s preamble makes links between the current government’s neo-liberal policies and its prioritization of the market over state intervention and a form of ‘neo-apartheid.’  

Pillar 1: ‘Reclaiming Our Dignity’

Pillar 1 begins with the statement “recognising that: South African society is dominated culturally, spiritually and economically by a minority group with an alien culture.” 

MK seeks to reclaim South Africa’s dignity by establishing indigenous languages as mandatory official languages from grade 0-12. Additionally, if elected it seeks to ensure that every young person upon reaching the age of 18 serves one year mandatory military service. 

Pillar 2: ‘Reclaiming Our Land and Mineral Resources’

Pillar 2 begins with the statement “the foundational issues of poverty, unemployment, and inequality stem from the theft of land and mineral resources.” 

The manifesto claims that due to land and mineral resources theft South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 42%. It continues, “unemployment is racialized – over 42 percent of black South Africans were unemployed in the first three months of 2023, while the jobless rate is only 7.5 percent among white people.”

Additionally, the MK party seeks to rectify the exploitation of land and mineral resources by “expropriating all land without compensation, transferring ownership to the people under the custodianship of the state and traditional healers.” The manifesto also states the party’s intent to “ensure state ownership and control of all natural resources on behalf of the South African people, including water, spectrum and renewable energy resources.” 

Pillar 3: ‘Reclaiming People’s Power’

Pillar 3 begins with the statement “the constitution of the South African state is colonial, founded on Roman-Dutch law, with very little influence of African jurisprudence.” 

African Law scholar Dial Dayana Ndima, of the University of South Africa defines African jurisprudence “as part of African law and its culture, African jurisprudence has characteristics that respond to its unique and distinctive features. It does not always necessarily conform to Western jurisprudence, either in content or in methodology.” 

uMkhonto weSizwe states that the country’s current liberal constitution constrains the dispossessed masses, and as such seeks to “hold a referendum to scrap the 1996 constitution and replace it with a parliamentary system with or without a codified constitution.” 

Furthermore, the manifesto states “the only unconstrained power by the liberal constitution is the power of money,” continuing, “de facto and de jure, unelected institutions and those with money are our true rulers, not the elected representatives of the people.”

The details of MK’s Pillars 4-8 are available here 

So, What Now?:

Throughout uMkhonto weSizwe’s 24-page manifesto various contradictions can be found. Additionally, claims that the “state will offer employment to everyone who is willing and able to work, at a decent wage above the minimum wage of R4500 ($235), with skills development and training opportunities” leaves one questioning where this funding is to come from. Other statements promising the provision of cheap water, electricity and public transport create their own host of questions. 

In sum, like the ANC, the MK party’s manifesto is filled with the same bold claims of societal unity and governmental care that the ANC has promised for 30 years. Instead, the South African dream has floundered, with 42% unemployment, corruption at unprecedented levels, rampant crime with 84 murders a day and a rape committed every 10 minutes. 

Futhermore, MK’s advocacy of land expropriation without compensation has been a contentious policy in Southern Africa since Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe advocated for the “Fast-Track Land Reform Program (FTLRP)” in 2002. Through the FTLRP the lands of white farmers were expropriated without compensation and taken over by the Zimbabwean government. The policy resulted in the expropriation of 110,000 square kilometers of land which caused food production levels to drop and food prices to rise. This, in conjunction with the collapse of the banking sector due to sanctions imposed by the US, EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF), plunged the country into an economic crisis, resulting in the nation being largely reliant on food imports by 2004.

MK’s manifesto is a stark reminder of the cognitive dissonance experienced by South Africa’s political elite and the short-term memory of the South African populace. As election day fast approaches, it has become clear that political elites in the country, particularly Zuma and Ramaphosa, have turned the nation’s legal system into an arena for elite spats. 

Despite 81-year-old Zuma’s vast track record of corruption, his party is surging in the polls, much in part due to an apathetic voting class.

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger is a Political Science Graduate from the University of Otago, New Zealand. Currently working as an Editor for The ModernInsurgent and writing for Atlas News, her interests include conflict politics, history, yoga and meditation.


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