Zuma’s arrest fuels violence and anarchy
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Johannesburg - The incarceration of former president Jacob Zuma this week places South Africa on a nervous trajectory never seen in the country’s history – both apartheid-era and post-apartheid peaceful order.
While numerous public commentators were audibly all-praising for the triumph of the “independence of the judiciary”, scant attention was placed on the political ramifications of Zuma’s imprisonment.
The former Robben Island prisoner-turned-democratic SA’s fourth president wields significant support among the rank and file members of the ruling ANC. This has been evident whenever Zuma attended his protracted criminal court cases in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. Hordes of his supporters in ANC regalia, together with the unwavering support of the MKMVA, dominate the side-show.
The ANC has called for “calm” in the wake of Zuma’s detention at Estcourt Correctional services in KZN, where the former statesman handed himself over to the authorities as per the directive of the Constitutional Court, which had condemned Zuma to 15 months imprisonment for contempt of court.
In November 2020, Zuma staged a walk-out from the State Capture Commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who had earlier refused Zuma’s application to have himself recused on allegation of bias.
Zondo then shot straight to the highest court to lay charges of contempt against Zuma, whose legal advice appears to have been that he need not cooperate with the Constitutional Court. A visibly enraged bench of the court then slated Zuma in a no-holds-barred judgment by a majority of 9-2.
Last weekend, scores of Zuma supporters undermined the Covid-19 regulations against mass gatherings when they converged in a show of force outside Zuma’s Nkandla compound.
They vowed to defend and protect him against any arrest, threatening to form a human shield, and a few gunshots could be heard – indicating what many know too well, which is that armed MKMVA members in camouflage uniforms are as armed as others in ANC regalia or plain clothes.
Zuma’s decision to hand himself over to the authorities has been hailed in many quarters, particularly by the ANC in KZN through its party Chairperson and Premier Sihle Zikalala as having averted bloodshed.
The province’s history of violence is no secret, and its people's propensity to take up arms remains real and police reported that there were more than 100 people who were armed outside Zuma’s Nkandla homestead last week, before his arrest. Hence, the sigh of relief expressed by Zikalala following Zuma’s voluntary reporting to the Estcourt Correctional Centre.
A handful of Zuma’s die-hard supporters camped outside the Estcourt Correctional Services a day after his detention. MKMVA leader Carl Niehaus was then arrested by a large contingency of the uniformed police while he was being interviewed by a TV crew.
It remains unclear what charges he is facing, although it is suspected that he could be accused of contravening Covid-19 regulations or being part of a crowd.
On Friday and yesterday, the former president's supporters staged violent protests across KwaZulu-Natal, demanding his release. They blocked the entrance and exit roads while stoning motorists. This resulted in more than 20 trucks, including a carrier truck transporting cars, being set alight on the N3 Mooi River near the toll plaza in the KZN Midlands.
Others have gone on social media to campaign for his release and are threatening to spread the violence to Gauteng.
However, there were mixed reactions from political analysts as to how Zuma’s arrest would affect the ANC and the country moving past the current unrest.
Political analyst Professor Siphamandla Zondi said the situation would result in the ANC losing votes in the process.
“The ANC has a lot to lose in the form of further divisions, internal factionalism and possible loss of votes in the process. For now, while the spirits are high, it would be difficult to campaign given the protests.
“Over time, the tempers will calm down, and campaigns may happen. But the ANC risks losing some disgruntled Zuma supporters because of a perception of a purge against so-called RET forces and a sort of triumphalism that has been displayed by some,” he said.
Zondi added that the situation had made Ramaphosa’s task to unite the ANC more difficult.
“We know that the power is in branches. It seems to me that growing their support in the branches is the way to go as other strategies are fast attracting disciplinary measures. The National Executive Committee (NEC), like all structures of the ANC, reflect what the party itself says is the problem: namely factionalism.
“Its deputy secretary-general said in the statement the shenanigans in Nkandla emanated from within the ANC. The task to unite the ANC has been made a bit more difficult unless by unity we mean the unity of one faction,” Zondi said.
Professor Sipho Seepe said the ANC had reached a stage where the notion of “comradeship” no longer exists and that the “same treatment dished out to others will befall them”.
“The arrest of Zuma serves the purpose of intimidating anyone that is seen to be at odds with the agenda of the triumphalist faction. It might be a game-changer. For most ordinary members, the current leadership is seen as composed of political sell-outs that get their mandate from white monopoly capital,” said Seepe.
Professor Kealeboga Maphunye said the arrest would strengthen the support base of Zuma’s political allies in the ANC and provincial government in KZN but will complicate matters for Ramaphosa’s election campaigns as it will alienate Zuma’s supporters whom Ramaphosa and the ANC in KZN desperately need to win the 2021 municipal elections in the province.
“While it is still early days to be certain about this, if the intense situation remains as it is currently, Zuma’s arrest could eventually impede Ramaphosa’s campaigning as the arrest will be used as a weapon to attack Ramaphosa’s supporters, thereby adversely affecting voter turnout for the governing party in KZN.
“Yet, another possible scenario could see those KZN ANC supporters who want to promote the rule of law gaining the upper hand in parts of the province, thereby boosting Ramaphosa’s campaigning in those parts of the province, and indeed, countrywide,” said Maphunye.
Maphunye added that if Ramaphosa loses at the ANC conference next year, he could be given the same dose of medicine that Zuma was given, but this will depend on the extent to which substantial evidence could be dug up to charge Ramaphosa with anything related to what he did during his tenure of office.
Professor Ralph Mathekga said the situation might end up with some of the ANC branches punishing the ruling party.
“When the branches are not happy and feel the party is failing them, such behaviour results in a situation where we see people not campaigning. The ANC depends a lot on its branches, and if they are not in a good shape and being torn like this, you might end up with people wanting to punish the ANC,” said Mathekga.
And according to Professor Metji Makgoba, the arrest of Zuma is the end of the RET forces within the ruling party.
“They are finished, disorganised, disoriented and displaced. Fighting factional battles without having access to the state resources and influential positions in the ruling party is hard. This is one of the reasons why Ace Magashule tried to fight against his suspension. He understood the importance of holding the position and how he can use it to frustrate Ramaphosa and his charges.”
“But in politics, there are always disgruntled groups. They may identify branches that don’t favour Ramaphosa’s agenda and organise them. But it is not going to be easy because they can’t buy them with tenders,” said Makgoba, who added that Zuma’s arrest mainly affected his cult, saying it’s not a national problem.
“So, it’s not going to affect the ANC votes. I think the ANC in KZN would be able to buy sympathy from Zuma’s supporters. They have already feigned and faked their concern over Zuma’s arrest, adding that they support the former president,” he said.
His sentiments were echoed by Professor Susan Booysen, who said: “The arrest shows that there is some credibility to the current ANC which is trying to redeem itself from corruption,” she said.
Meanwhile, Niehaus said those who support the RET policy had been targeted for a long time.
“Zuma has been the main target, and this has been going on for close to 22 years. Our courts have been turned into instruments of partisan and factional political fighting, and they are in the service of a dominant faction within the ANC. We are heading to difficult times, with certain people within the ANC being in the mood for transvestism,” he said.
KZN RET chairperson Nkosentsha Shezi called on the ANC leadership for introspection and to consider the future of the country before taking decisions.
“Without any doubt, the judiciary is captured. The ANC’s culture and values had been thrown away, and the people of this country are organising themselves and taking to the streets, and unfortunately, the leadership is not to provide leadership, and as a result, we see smoke and fire in the air. The message is clear: the NEC must be dissolved. There must be an urgent special elective conference of the ANC,” he said.
Sankarist David Letsoalo said the arrest had begun a new chapter in the ANC, in terms of political retribution and vengeance.
"This is going to be the new pattern in cycles of ANC leadership successions. The use of state institutions, particularly from the criminal justice perspective, will be heightened. The notion of respecting, protecting and covering comrades has now been buried, six feet underground.
"Should Ramaphosa and his faction lose ground, we may expect the courts to be seized with many matters relating to such allegations as to his consortium with white monopoly capital and other issues. I foresee more galvanised attitude to revisit instances such as the Marikana Massacre, a painful incident in our history associated with protection of white monopoly capital at all costs," said Letsoalo.