/ 26 May 2024

Zuma’s election antics are wild, even by South Africa’s standards

Umkhonto Wesizwe Manifesto / Rally Orlando Stadium Photo Delwyn Verasamy
Jacob Zuma's MK party were the big winners in this year's elections. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)


It’s quite a thing that our most important election since 1994 will also be the first in which we have a presidential candidate who can’t legally become president, should his party make it over the line.

That’s wild even by South African standards — and yet another dubious first racked up by Jacob Zuma.

We’ve had plenty of presidential candidates on the ballot who were never going to get there —FW de Klerk, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Kenneth Meshoe to name a few — but they were all legally permitted to do so, should the voting public have swung in that direction.

Zuma’s head may be on the ballot for the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, but that’s as close as he will be getting to parliament — or the presidency — when a new government is sworn in after the elections.

Unless, of course, his party gets the three-thirds victory the old man has been talking up and changes the Constitution to allow him to do so.

This isn’t likely — except perhaps in the Kingdom, but not beyond its borders — so Zuma is understood to be making up his mind as to who to appoint to take the job once the counting is done.

This will, we are told, allow him to hang back, pull the strings and collect his presidential pension, leaving a nominee to take up his seat in parliament and, voters permitting, cabinet.

There’s talk of three candidates, all former somethings with high public profiles, who uBaba is courting for the gig, with word being that the name will only be named once the counting is over and done with.

It’s all still up in the air at this stage — the best way to keep every­body in the MK party onside and focused on getting the punters to the polls — and is likely to depend on who delivers what between now and when the ballots are tallied.

Unbelievable but believable, as things are when it comes to uBaba.

This time next week, the voters will have voted, the counting will be under way and the politicians will be warming up for the weekend of objections, legal wrangling and horse trading that comes after every national and provincial election.

The door-to-door visits, rallies, mini rallies and motorcades will have come to an end — at least until the local government elections in 2026. And while the politicians haggle, life in South Africa will return to the semblance of normality that it is for the rest of us.

No more T-shirts flung from G Wagons, no more flag-burning television adverts, no more exhortations to bring back the death penalty, no more 6am SMS messages from John Steenhuisen until the next electoral cycle comes around.

Hopefully, the lights will stay on.

The flood of official openings, unveilings and sod turnings that punctuated recent months will also come to an end — until whoever gets to run the country is installed after the haggling is concluded and the next half decade of performative governance starts.

One wonders how many of the new projects President Cyril Ramaphosa and other politicians across the spectrum opened ahead of the elections will have been completed by the next national and provincial elections.

All those roads, one-stop centres, taxi ranks and upliftment projects that suddenly needed to be launched in the run-up to voting day.

How many will have been abandoned, the victims of looting or reprioritisation of budgets by a new administration — or simply of cynical intent, having been launched with no intention of their reaching fruition?

We will only know in five years’ time.

Five years is — as former ANC secretary general Ace Magashule found out — a very long time in politics (and in our fair Republic) so my money is on not many of them still being around when we vote again in 2029.

One wonders how many of the new parties that have been hustling our votes are going to make it into the National Assembly or the provincial legislatures after 29 May — let alone still be standing next time we vote.

There was a big cull during the registration phase, but I foresee an even bigger one when the voters are counted.

Views on social media are one thing, votes are another — the podcast studio and parliament are thousands of votes apart.

Likewise the parties who took a hammering in 2019 — the Congress of the People, the United Democratic Movement, the National Freedom Party — and had been reduced to one or two seats during the last term.

They, like many of the newcomers, are unlikely to get enough voters to return to parliament.

When the voting is done this time next week, their time in the National Assembly is likely to be up.