The Role Of Zulu Strongmen In South African Politics Part 2

By Joburg Post

Last week Friday, I wrote and published the first part of “The Role Of Zulu Strongmen In South African Politics.” In the first part of a two-part series, I sought to present a historical context of the Zulu strongmen’s impact in South African politics dating back to foundations of the Zulu empire by King Shaka kaSenzangakhona to the fall of President Jacob Zuma from the highest office of the land, the presidency. 

In providing this historical context, I endeavoured to provide a clear picture of the complexity of Zulu political leadership by analysing the intertwined destinies of Zuma and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). In the end what was clear was that while both men are in effect in the twilight of their political prominence and dominance, the province they hail from, KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), as the second most populous province, will continue to be a critical region in shaping the politics of the country, particularly as South Africa enters a future where political uncertainties surrounding the ANC and  the IFP prevail, with both the political  parties’ future in KZN and the country uncertain past the 2019 elections. 

In part one I posed the question around how the South African story would have shaped up had Buthelezi or Winnie Madikizela-Mandela ascended to the Deputy Presidency of the country (Buthelezi) and the African National Congress (ANC, Madikizela-Mandela). Perhaps, South Africa would have been spared from 10 years of the climax of state capture that even dared to make political appointments of ministers against the fact that such decisions were protected by the constitution as presidential prerogatives, that not even the ANC could infringe upon.

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi leading the zulu tradtional regiments.

However, I submitted and still do, that history perhaps took the trajectory it was meant to take and that to try and rewrite an alternative history would be a futile exercise. As a result, this week I seek to answer questions I posed last week in the end of the article, when I asked;

“Who will fill this void in Zulu political leadership? Are there any people worthy to do so? Or will Zulu political leadership face the same vacuum Xhosa political leadership faced after the end of the Mbeki presidency? Has the sun set on the "ngunification" of South African politics with the rise of Ramaphosa, a Venda speaking man, who hails from Limpopo and grew up in Soweto?”

Is there an Heir-Apparent in Zululand?

During the Zuma administration, accusations were lodged that Zuma had practically filled top government posts with some of his closest alliance, especially those who hailed from KZN. The likes of the South African Communist Party (SACP) secretary-general Blade Nzimande, Nathi Mthethwa, Malusi Gigaba, Nhlanhla Nene, Siyabonga Cwele, Thulas Nxesi and Nkosinathi Nhleko were appointed not only based on their allegiance to Zuma but also to promote a new era in which in effect the executive was being “zulufied”. Leaders such as Dr Essop Pahad, the former minister in the presidency under President Thabo Mbeki’s administration, critiqued this move by Zuma, arguing that appointment of ministers on ethnical grounds was foreign to the ANC.

However, in many ways the bid by Zuma to increase not only the size of his cabinet but increase the presence of his allies in the executive was based on three reasons;

1.    To remove all signs of Mbeki’s legacy by even ensuring that those who supported Mbeki would never again enjoy the kind political power they had under Mbeki, regardless of their experience and skills.

2.    The appointment of allies as a thanksgiving for supporting his political comeback and his legal bid to remain out of jail. 

3.    Lastly, it had the impact of further centralising power to Zuma, who in turn would use greater access to state resources to enrich the private interests that funded his life, legal battles and political comeback. 

Moreover, for Zuma, the dark cloud of the Arms Deal continued to hover over him, given that the dropping of the charges was based not on the merits of the charges but on so-called illegal political interference in the case. 

As a result, Zuma proceeded in setting in motion events that would ensure his legal survival post his presidency and he would thus look to people like Gigaba, Zweli Mkhize, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Sihle Zikalala in the KZN for that, among his other pawns. This group of people would become very important, as elements loyal to Mbeki and then subsequently, the former deputy president of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe, waged a push back against Zuma’s total control of the ANC. In many ways, the kind of power Zuma yielded over the ANC was unprecedented, and ironic, given that Zuma was pitched as a man of consensus and not a centralist ruler, which was often a tag placed on Mbeki. 

In KZN, Zuma awarded his allies with positions and access to state resources in exchange for their total loyalty. However, some like Senzo Mchunu would eventually fall out of favour with Zuma, leading to his (Mchunu’s) political exodus, as he was defeated by Zikalala for the Chairmanship of the ANCKZN in 2015 and subsequently removed as premier in the likeness of how Mbeki was removed in 2008.

Former President Jacob Zuma & Former Premier of KZN, Senzo Mchunu in better days.

In many ways, the bitter war of the 2015 provincial conference that saw ANC member take ANC member to the courts, would become the beginning of an inter-ANC civil war. A war waged on legal, political, intelligence, violent fronts. It was no longer to be ANC vs IFP (In part because IFP’s power was neutralised) but it would be ANC vs. ANC, as political killings in the province rose again all in a bitter battle to secure power and access to state resources. 

The unified KZN that gave birth to the Zuma presidency, was now the war-zone where the soul of ANC politics was being fought over and so the emerging strongmen were being called upon to pick sides and enter the fold in a bid to continue historically trajectory of Zulu political leadership in South Africa. 

However, the challenge was that besides Dlamini-Zuma, Gigaba and Nzimande, these emerging Zulu leaders lacked the political weight, institutional memory and national profile that Zuma had garnered of the years. Moreover, none of them enjoyed the anointing placed by on Zuma by former president Nelson Mandela. 

As a result, their political climb would need to be built on the back of Zuma and the consequence of that is that it is Zuma who has been the puppet master and holder of fates in shaping the political leadership that comes out of the ANC in KZN. 

One need not look any further, Zuma practically pushed the election of Dlamini-Zuma as the African Union Chairperson, even though its broke international convention that the candidate from a nation as powerful as South Africa could not stand for the AU chairpersonship. Moreover, Zuma appointed the many of his Zulu allies to occupy high positions in the security and economic clusters, with Gigaba finding himself at the centre of the economy, as Minister of Finance. 

However, the danger of being linked to a leader like Zuma is that his dirt becomes yours and so it was, the whole lot of them were guilty by association and by deed as they aided Zuma’s erosion of the state. So, Dlamini-Zuma was no longer seen as an equal political figure but simply a Zuma proxy. So, the Ramaphosa bid for the ANC power was a moral bid to preserve the ANC from a future was Zuma would continue to make political decisions all the way in Nkandla, KZN. Consequently, many of his allies would fall out of favour and lose their posts but given the weak Ramaphosa victory in the NASREC, he was given a lifeline, as his supporters made half of the national executive committee (NEC) and thus some of them including Dlamini-Zuma and Bathabile Dlamini were kept in the cabinet,  post the ascension of Ramaphosa as president of the Republic. 

Zuma would continue to offer a headache to Ramaphosa as KZN even though no longer as unified behind him as it was in 2007 and 2012, still represented his power base. This was most evident in how the 107th-anniversary celebrations of the ANC were hosted in KZN and he, Zuma, was made the darling of it all and not Ramaphosa. With Zuma out of the face, he is seen as even more dangerous than before as he even uses his court appearance to galvanize support in make-shift rallies outside the courthouses. 

Minister in the Presidency, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma & President Cyril Ramaphosa

In many ways Zuma’s activities are a sign he knows that the twilight of Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential bid, Gigaba’s political and personal scandals and the lack of political appeal of people like Zikalala means he (Zuma) must continue to behave like a man who is very much in the political field, after all, how do we justify his plea for the people to vote for the Black Land First movement?

Zuma knows that within KZN, the stock of leaders there lack the political gravitas he had  and so the Zulu strongman must look to people outside the province, namely; ANC secretary-general, Ace Magashule,  disgraced North West Chairman, Supra Mahumapelo  and new political parties formed by his allies, notably African Content Movement leader Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the BLF and Jimmy Manyi In order to destabilise the ANC’s power, in a bid to hurt Ramaphosa. 

Why do you ask? Simple, any result that Ramaphosa elected on weaker than 60% mandate would open him (Ramaphosa) to increased political pressure to be removed from power and hopefully a Zuma favourite to take over. However, who could that be? ANC in KZN is divided and none of Zuma’s people would likely win, except for man whose allegiance shifted from Zuma to himself, Deputy President, David Mabuza. 

This brings to the future of the ngunification of South African politics.

The Ngunification of SA politics

The 2017 ANC elective conference marked the extent of Mabuza’s power as membership audits revealed that Mabuza had silently built the membership of Mpumalanga to a point where it dethroned the Eastern Cape, as the ANC’s 2nd largest province according to membership. This is a time where both KZN and Eastern Cape so a decrease in membership numbers. The consequence of these events so, Mpumalanga all the sudden becoming the kingmaker as Mabuza conscious of the electoral danger posed by a Dlamini-Zuma victory on his chances of becoming Deputy President of South Africa and subsequently, South Africa. 

So, the Ndebele man waged a political campaign called “unity” choosing rather to distance his province from both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma. By doing so, the numbers would not lie, showing that without him, neither candidates had enough votes to win and basically a hung conference result would be the order of the day. However, behind closed doors, members of the premier league and the Ramaphosa camp lobbied Mabuza, he silently urged his delegates to choose Ramaphosa and so it was, the province that was seen as safe ground for Jacob Zuma fell away, as a Nguni Strongman gave the keys to the kingdom to a non-Nguni speaking political leader, in the form of Ramaphosa. 

Finally, Ramaphosa would taste the ultimate glory that was “taken” from him by the exile camp that promoted Mbeki over him in 1997. Finally, Mandela’s man would become ANC president and subsequently South Africa’s president but to what cost?

He enjoys the perks of being head of state and government not so much because of his own political support but because in the last minute Mabuza chose to align his own narrow political ambitions with Ramaphosa’s. 

So, Ramaphosa in effect is to Mabuza what Motlanthe was to Zuma; a president keeping the seat warm for another!

While his rise is historic on the lines that like Motlanthe, he is the second non-Nguni president of the country and the first of the ANC, it has come at the hands of the prevailing will of a Nguni base, albeit not the traditional power bases of amaXhosa and AmaZulu.

Deputy President David Mabuza

What does it mean for Ramaphosa?

Ramaphosa is a man who faces a difficult political challenge, ANC presidents of the past, enjoyed strong first term support but Ramaphosa’s support mimics that of a president who barely got re-elected for a second term. In effect, his first term is based on a weak political mandate within the ANC. 

So, he must look towards the rest of South Africa to give him the kind of political steel he needs to not only wage war within his own party but do the job he was elected to do and  that is to promote and protect the interests of the Republic. 

So, his new dawn proposal will need to take the turn for the positive and stories surrounding his son, Andile Ramaphosa’s connections to the corrupt Bosasa and the fact some of his own senior supporters are tainted by state capture, hurts his bid to be a break for the past and strengthen his mandate to rule and pass the kind of economic reforms. 

Ironically, in terms of ANC dynamics, he needs a strong IFP more than ever before, for to weaken Zuma’s hand,  he needs to show that the KZN provincial executive committee (PEC) in the likeness of Zuma and Zuma himself has weakened the ANC’s electoral dominance but to do so he may need to cut himself in the process. Does he take the risk or depend on his own political clout do his bidding? He is damned if ANC is strong in the KZN and damned if it is weak. Regardless of how things turn out, there is no doubt that Zulu strongmen and more importantly the ngunification of SA politics will continue to shape the political trajectory of Africa’s most advanced economy!


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