/ 18 May 2024

Zuma: I am fighting thieves when I should be retired

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Former president Jacob Zuma at the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party rally at Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Photo: Delwyn Verasamy/M&G

Former president Jacob Zuma, whose uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party is promising to topple his former political home the ANC, has called out leaders in his new party who are aiming for positions in Parliament. 

Zuma was addressing thousands of party supporters on Saturday afternoon at the Orlando stadium in Soweto, where the MK party held its final rally ahead of 29 May general elections.

Supporters who had been bussed from different parts of the country — mainly his home province of KwaZulu-Natal — started arriving at the stadium in the early hours of the day, donned in MK party regalia and singing struggle songs.

True to form, Zuma arrived at least three hours after the programme was scheduled to start, flanked by party members dressed in what is commonly known as the army uniform of the original uMkhonto we Sizwe, which was the military wing of the ANC. Zuma’s daughter, Duduzile, who is poised to lead the party after the elections, was also in attendance. 

Ahead of Zuma’s arrival, the party brought out well known artists including Big Zulu and Mthandeni who entertained the crowds. 

The veteran politician’s arrival drew huge cheers from the thousands of supporters impatiently waiting for his address. One after the other, speakers who were called to the podium ahead of his speech were drowned out by the crowd.

The nearly 37 000 capacity stadium was almost full by the time Zuma stood up to speak. Living up to custom, the former ANC president first belted out his popular rendition of the ‘Mshini wam’ song.

He began his speech by taking the crowd down memory lane, speaking about the history of the country including apartheid. His message was partly centred around the role of traditional leaders in society, saying they had been stripped of their powers by colonialists and that under the MK party, their authority and dignity would be restored. 

Zuma said traditional leaders must be included as lawmakers in parliament, and that the role of judges must be reduced to allow traditional leaders to regain their rights to hold tribal courts. 

Although the MK party’s base lies in the KwaZulu-Natal where it is expected to dent the vote shares of both the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party, the organisation opted to hold its final rally in Gauteng.

Party leaders who spoke to the Mail & Guardian prior to Zuma’s address said this was part of a strategy to counter the narrative that the MK party was formed along tribal Zulu lines. 

The party, which took its identity from the ANC’s armed wing, also notably chose to hold its last rally in Orlando, historically known as the area where the original uMkhonto weSizwe was founded by struggle icon Nelson Mandela in the wake of the Sharpeville massacre, to take the war to the apartheid regime. 

Taking aim at the judiciary, Zuma said judges used their positions to settle scores against those they hated.

The former president has been at odds with some members of the judiciary including Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who was central to his conviction and jail time when he refused to face cross-examination at the state capture commission. Zuma was sentenced to 15 months for contempt by the constitutional court.

The state capture inquiry, chaired by Zondo, found that during the Zuma presidency,  almost every arm of the state was suffocated and left bankrupt by leaders of the ANC. 

On Saturday Zuma said the MK party would ensure that children coming from impoverished backgrounds would study for free. To make sure that learners attended school to graduation, parents who did not adhere to this rule would be jailed, he added.

“Those who are determined to have this realised must vote for the MK party,” he said in isiZulu. 

He criticised political parties that have recently mushroomed, accusing them of being driven by ambitions to be in parliament rather than to fight for the poor. 

“We have too many political parties who are taking money from white people. Going to parliament is now a means to an end. We are too old to be fighting thieves, I should be enjoying my retirement with my grandchildren,” he said. 

Taking shots at his own comrades within the MK party, Zuma said those who wished to be part of its national executive committee (NEC) would not become government ministers.

“We can’t all go to parliament. You can’t just assume because you are in the NEC you will go to parliament. There are many responsibilities that await us, not just parliament,” he said.

“We are not here for positions, we are here to change the lives of black people. We have interim structures, structures that are temporal and yet there are people who think this is a step up for them. There are people who think they are here for positions.

“We have noticed these tendencies, they will never get it,” he said, adding that internal fights had escalated with some party members carrying guns. “You can’t be an NEC member and a minister. One has to drive an organisation and one has other responsibilities.” 

Zuma promised that the organisation would pay NEC members handsomely to counter any desire they might have for ministries.

“The organisation will build factories to employ many people and those in the NEC will be charged with those factories. They will get the same salary as ministers. If you want to be in the NEC, you can’t be a minister. We are working for the people in the true sense of the word,” he said.

“We want to end corruption which is caused by people who hold many positions in government and in the party. We don’t want thieves in the MK party. We are trying to fix the country. We want peace and an end to poverty. Those who have sold the country, we will take them out one by one.”