ANC Breaks with Former President Zuma: Implications for South African Politics

The African National Congress (ANC) has suspended former South African President Jacob Zuma after he called for the election of a new party, signaling a major rupture within the ruling party.

ANC Breaks With Zuma

South Africa’s former President Zuma has turned away from the ruling ANC party, and now the party has suspended him. Zuma has called for the election of a new party. But who does this harm more?

This is the culmination of a bitter power struggle. At the center are South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and his predecessor Jacob Zuma. The former leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and long-time head of state is one of the most colorful and controversial political figures in the country.

During his tenure from 2009 to 2018, corruption in South Africa reached record levels. “State capture” was the term used, meaning that politics had captured the state as its prey.

In 2021, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison for contempt of court orders – an unprecedented move. Having a former president behind bars had never happened in South Africa before. However, Zuma was released from prison shortly afterwards due to health problems.

Last year, he announced that he would no longer vote for the ANC in the upcoming parliamentary elections in the spring, but for the newly formed party “Umkhonto We Sizwe” (MK). He also called on all ANC members to follow his example and bring about political change in the country.

Supporters stand by Zuma

Despite his conviction and various corruption allegations, the 81-year-old Zuma remains a heavyweight in South African politics. He still has many supporters, especially among the approximately twelve million Zulu people, the country’s largest ethnic group. His campaign against the ANC and President Ramaphosa could be dangerous for the ruling party.

The ANC’s image has suffered significantly due to high unemployment, rising crime rates, and the ongoing energy crisis. For the upcoming elections, the party faces the threat of losing its absolute majority for the first time.

Due to conduct detrimental to the party, the ANC has now suspended Zuma with immediate effect. “Because the former president publicly calls for the removal of the ANC from power,” says Fikile Mbalula, the party’s Secretary-General, which has governed South Africa with an absolute majority since the first free elections in 1994.

An act of provocation?

Moreover, the ANC intends to take legal action against the new party. According to Secretary-General Mbalula, the formation of the new political organization MK is not a coincidence but a deliberate provocation. After all, the new party was named after the former armed wing of the ANC, which is still considered an important symbol of the struggle for freedom against the decades-long oppression by the white apartheid regime.

ANC party leader and President Ramaphosa explicitly supports the decision against his predecessor. He refers to Zuma as a “free agent,” someone who acts on their own behalf.

Ramaphosa said in an interview with the South African TV channel SABC that Zuma supports a new party, which many believe he himself founded. But anyone who aligns themselves with political competition can no longer be a member of the ANC.

Demonstrative optimism

The ousting of Zuma is unlikely to come as a surprise to him, quite the opposite. He probably even counted on it, hoping to portray himself to his supporters as a victim of revenge by the established ANC leadership.

In any case, Zuma approaches the parliamentary elections with great optimism. In a campaign event over the weekend, he stated that his goal is a two-thirds majority. However, current polls indicate that MK is far from achieving that.