Mandela's heirs in great difficulty in South Africa

The ANC is sinking in the polls. The candidacy of Jacob Zuma, who left the party, cost him dearly.

Jacob Zuma, 81, the former president of the South African Republic (2009 – 2018), could be a candidate in the legislative elections on May 29 despite a prison sentence in 2021.

At the end of March, however, the electoral commission (IEC) invalidated his candidacy by recalling the eligibility conditions provided for by the Constitution which provides in particular that a person sentenced to a prison sentence of more than 12 months cannot be a candidate.

The former president of the republic, who spent ten years in Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela was also detained, is an emblematic figure in the fight against the apartheid regime. He was sentenced in 2021 to 15 months in prison for contempt and he still faces prosecution for corruption.

But Jacob Zuma ultimately remained behind bars for less than three months, benefiting from conditional release for health reasons. A decision quickly overturned by the highest court in the country which had ruled that the former president should return to prison, forcing the current head of state, Cyril Ramaphosa, to intervene in this case in order to obtain a reduced sentence .

Divorce at the top

But the gesture of the current head of state did not prevent the courts from invalidating Zuma's candidacy, nor from the former president leaving the ANC with a bang to join, last December, the ranks of the young political group Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

A party which has continued to gain visibility and popularity since this rally and which took legal action at the end of March 2024 to have the decision to invalidate its candidate annulled. The verdict fell this Tuesday, April 9, Jacob Zuma is authorized to run in the legislative elections.

But the legal-political soap opera is not over yet. A real trench war was declared between the ANC and MK. The ruling party initially demanded that MK be removed from the lists of parties registered for the election. He was rejected. ANC lawyers returned to the charge, demanding that Zuma's party be forced to change its name and logo, explaining that “MK” was the identity of an armed wing of the ANC at the time of the fight against the apartheid regime. The lawyers therefore denounce a “theft of intellectual property and heritage”. Justice has yet to rule.

But MK supporters, more and more numerous over the course of these highly publicized legal dramas in South Africa, launched a campaign on social networks promising “riots like never before”, if justice “under control” were to take place. “bend” to the request of the ANC.

Threats which pushed the South African authorities to call for calm, no one having forgotten the capacity of Jacob Zuma's supporters to create unrest in the country, particularly in the north-east region where their favorite comes from. The incarceration of Jacob Zuma in 2021 caused waves of riots and looting which left more than 350 dead. The worst record since the end of apartheid.

The ANC cashes in

The conflict between the ANC and Jacob Zuma, who has retained a significant electoral base, is not the business of the ruling party which is losing popularity in poll after poll, case of corruption after report of mismanagement. Nelson Mandela's party, accustomed to exceeding 60% in legislative elections, experienced a first alert in 2019, falling for the first time below this bar (57.50%) for Cyril Ramaphosa's first term. But the latest polls, including the one released this week by the Social Research Foundation, are much more catastrophic. The party would lose its absolute majority and would even be below 40%. The latest poll promises 37% for the ANC, closely followed by the Democratic Alliance (DA – 30%), while MK, Zuma's party, continues to progress and is now around 13%. The ANC is falling at the rate of MK's progress.

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