MK party: Follow the leader

Eugene Brink writes this party is literally Zuma’s get-out-of-jail card and he seems to be playing it pretty well

Some recent polls have found that the new uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party is set to achieve in 2024’s general elections what few other new political entrants have managed to do. Perhaps even more.

Every new political party that has had relative success in their first election (and even survived after that) have done so on the back of anti-ANC sentiment. First Cope and then the EFF. Both have hurt the ANC in some ways, although only the EFF has managed to stay feasible. It looks like MK will do the same, but may also dent the EFF and IFP’s fortunes in the process.

A new poll by the Brenthurst Foundation has put its support at a very respectable and indeed unprecedented 13% nationally if the turnout is 66%. This is accompanied by a commensurable drop in the ANC’s support to a dismal 39%. According to BusinessLive, these findings chime with other surveys done by Standard Bank and Wits University.

Emphatically, its support in the country’s two biggest provinces, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, is quite interesting if true. The Brenthurst poll found it could reach 6% in Gauteng and 25% in KwaZulu-Natal, compared with a respective 34% and 20% for the ANC. It will therefore be the biggest party in KZN and at least a potential kingmaker in Gauteng. Although not mentioned, it could very well gain a reasonable share in Mpumalanga too. The permutations of coalition politics, based on inconclusive polling data, falls outside the scope of this article and will thus not be speculated on for now.

Be that as it may, it is likely that MK will have some national impact as well as influence in some of the country’s provinces. It is time to take a closer look at this party, its principles, and personalities.

A mundane manifesto

Its website and election manifesto are as anodyne and altruistic as they are brief and unoriginal. One expects to find EFF class and race warfare rhetoric and quixotic policy proposals, but instead MK’s views look and sound like something copied and pasted from an African Union (AU) statement or some non-governmental organisation. They have released a total of two official media statements.                  

Its manifesto has eight main headings of focus areas, with two concise bullet points under each one. Its “about us” section, as well as its vision and mission, are also laconically summarized. “The MK Party, rooted in a rich history of striving for justice and equality, is dedicated to transforming South Africa into a nation where every citizen has the opportunity to thrive. Our vision is anchored in the belief that through unity, innovation, and unwavering dedication to the common good, we can overcome the challenges of economic inequality, inadequate education, and healthcare. Committed to principles of fairness, integrity, and progress, the MK Party advocates for policies that ensure sustainable development, security, and prosperity for all South Africans. Join us in building a future marked by empowerment, resilience, and enduring progress,” is how it describes itself. Nothing militant (or special) about that.

Its manifesto makes mention of issues such as electricity, education, land redistribution and economic policy. I wanted so badly to read something overtly zealous here, but I was disappointed by its pedestrian proposals. In terms of land redistribution, it reads: “Accelerating Redistribution: Fast-track land redistribution policies while maintaining food security and increasing food exports.” It wants to secure the borders, overhaul law enforcement agencies, adopt a skills approach that meets market demands, ensure healthcare facilities are well-staffed, and promote regional stability within Southern Africa. Even its insistence on empowering traditional leaders by bolstering their role and authority is not even close to radical in latter-day South Africa. They even offer homework assistance elsewhere on their website!

Leaving aside all other factors, these are principles and a manifesto that even middle-class whites won’t object to. And its projected support is an outsized reward for so little work and persuasion.

Zuma the Zulu

This bare-bones approach to informing the public is irrelevant and they know it. It is by design that they offer zero details on how their vision and objectives will come to fruition. They know that their target constituency, mainly poor Zulu speakers, is unlikely to even visit the website or read the brief manifesto. It is more likely a simple and lazy ruse to placate the media and others who are hostile to them. Anyway, they obviously didn’t expend much effort to fill 56 pages like the ANC did, or the eye-watering 260 pages that the EFF has in its manifesto.

We are all by now cognizant of the fact that former president Jacob Zuma is the de facto party president, although the website indicates that the position is still vacant. He is number one on their list for the National Assembly. He is their raison d’être, even if they are not his. This party is literally his get-out-of-jail card and admittedly, he seems to be playing it pretty well, just as he has been playing the long game for legal and political survival with great astuteness. People like Des van Rooyen also appear on the list, but without Zuma’s pull this party would be stillborn and not threaten to dislodge the EFF as the third biggest party in the country.

Zulu ethnic solidarity, traditional values and a leader’s well-crafted victimhood complete his appeal. Free from the strictures of the ANC and being president of the country, he can rail with abandon against homosexuality, abortions, the constitution and especially the ANC itself. He wants to exile teen parents to Robben Island, as well as reinstitute corporal punishment and African law. These are the real details not contained in their manifesto. “Whatever Zuma says, goes” is the unofficial mantra of MK. To be sure, he can pretty much say or do anything and his supporters will lap it up. Just like they kept hero-worshipping him (and not his new party) when he didn’t even pitch up at a party rally in Thembisa.

In January, he probably said the quite part out loud when he erroneously told a crowd to vote for the ANC (instead of the MK Party). Was it just force of habit, old age, or a real Freudian slip? It could be all of them, but his obsession with the ANC is an overriding one. He wants so desperately to return to the ANC, but to control and use it once more. The rest is just noise and his supporters at sizeable rallies seem to agree with this plank. The Witness reported on how green-clad MK supporters danced to anti-ANC songs at a rally in Pietermaritzburg while admitting that that they are still ANC members but oppose Cyril Ramaphosa current sway in the party. The MK Party even derives its name from the ANC. This is not dissimilar to Cope but this party simply lacked the leadership personalities of MK and the EFF to give a decisive edge.

The MK Party is not an opposition party with fresh ideas, but a strategic revenge project that relies mainly on Zulu support and which will cease to exist once the tide turns within the ANC. And it is a seemingly successful one that might just eventually achieve its dominant objective. They might not last long, but all that counts now is 2024’s election.

Dr Brink is an entrepreneur, business consultant and commentator based in Paarl.