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ANC facing it's toughest test in South Africa after foiled dream

 Former South African president Jacob Zuma. [AFP] 

The approval by South Africa’s electoral court of Jacob Zuma’s candidature in the May 29 elections is welcome news for the former President whose fall from grace has been agonising. 

The April decision came soon after another blow to Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC, which had objected registration of Zuma’s UMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party’s name and symbol. The court refused to go into the merits of the ANC objection, arguing that ANC had been negligent, failing to lodge its objection within the statutory timelines.

The Zuma candidature decision was a departure from an earlier decision by the constitutional court which had rejected Zuma’s candidature on basis of his 15-month conviction for contempt of court.  These developments come at the wrong time for the Independence Party which has historically looked unassailable.

From a high of more than 70 per cent support in its hey days it couldn’t manage 50 per cent of the vote in the local elections in 2021. The party has been subject of simmering discontent from majority of its supporters who increasingly feel left out of the new South Africa.

The last 30 years of South Africa’s independence have not translated Nelson Mandela’s hopes into reality. The economy has been battered and the party has been unable to lift its black majority population from crippling poverty.

In the last few years, rolling blackouts have hurt industry and brought shame to this country of fast expressways and gleaming skyscrapers.

Nowhere is this dissatisfaction felt more than among the young who remain increasingly hopeless and restless. Many have shifted their allegiance to the far-left Economic Freedom (EFF) Party led by fiery Julius Malema.

Due to its extreme policies, ANC has never considered this party a significant threat to its hegemony. MK under Zuma is however a different kettle of fish. Zuma is a grassroots politician with the credentials of a freedom fighter.

Not only was he in exile during the apartheid days, he also served for 10 years in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, which Ramaphosa never did, which has led to some in ANC say he was a sell-out.

Zuma’s support among his Zulu people is legendary. Among his supporters, allegations about corruption are dismissed as political, a constant feature in Africa’s politics where the weaponisation of the war against graft has many times become a cloak even for the openly and irredeemably corrupt to conveniently wear.

Another factor going for Zuma is we currently live in a world increasingly dissatisfied with “Woke” politicians like Ramaphosa. Zuma’s rough and rugged exterior, complete with his legendary dancing skills may be just what the doctor ordered for many hopeless South Africans who want to show a finger to the “proper and sated”, many of who currently occupy higher ranks of ANC.

Granted, it is almost impossible for Zuma’s MK to remove ANC from power. What will be a challenge for ANC is retaining a majority in Parliament. For the last 30 years, this majority has enabled ANC pursue its policies without having to compromise with alliances.

With the Democratic Alliance (DA) dominant in the Southern Cape and MK taking a significant portion of its traditional base, ANC will most probably not manage this majority. It will then have to look for alliances which are messy and have so far not worked well in local governments. That will further compromise its ability to deliver on its promises.

The route ANC has taken is common in Africa’s independence parties from Kenya’s KANU to Ghana and Uganda’s Convention People’s Party and Uganda People’s Congress respectively. Having fought for independence and promised Canaan, these independence parties found it difficult to deliver and eventually became the scorn of their erstwhile supporters.

Many are since forgotten. One feels nostalgic about the promise that ANC had wrought in this beautiful nation and would have wished it had truly transformed South Africa for the benefit of its population.

But ANC’s battering sends a message to all political parties and leaders in Africa that there is only so much room among the African populace for patience to deliver election promises. No one is unassailable. If they do not deliver.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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