Run on numbers: The elephant in the election room

uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) leader and former president Jacob Zuma. Photo by Shiraaz Mohamed / AFP

uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) leader and former president Jacob Zuma. Photo by Shiraaz Mohamed / AFP

Published Jun 15, 2024


IN A SONG by Adele, Someone like you, there are some well-known lyrics: “I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited.” The song goes on to say, “and that you’d be reminded that for me, it isn’t over.”

Commentators and political parties were surprised, mostly unpleasantly, by the record-breaking rise of the MK Party in the 2024 elections and the return to politics of former president Jacob Zuma.

Could it be that the foundation was laid for this phenomenon during the July 2021 unrest? The unrest, also known as the July 2021 riots, the Zuma unrest, or Zuma riots, was a wave of civil unrest that occurred in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng provinces from 9 to 18 July 2021, sparked by the imprisonment of Zuma for contempt of court.

1. Zuma stands accused of 18 charges of corruption, racketeering, fraud and tax evasion linked to his allegedly corrupt relationship with his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik. KwaZulu-Natal High Court Judge President Thoba Portia Poyo-Dlwati has scheduled dates between April and September 2025 for Zuma to finally face trial – 20 years after he was first charged with Arms Deal corruption.

One can only wonder whether the formation of the MK Party (MKP) may have been more related to the upcoming court cases than winning seats in Parliament.

The MKP has indicated that its members will not be joining the first sitting of Parliament on 15 June, where they would have been expected to swear allegiance to the Constitution of South Africa.

Schedule 2 of the Constitution reads as follows: I, A.B., swear/solemnly affirm that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa and will obey, respect, and uphold the Constitution and all other laws of the Republic; and I solemnly promise to perform my functions as a member of the National Assembly/permanent delegate to the National Council of Provinces/member of the legislature of the province of C.D. to the best of my ability. (In the case of an oath: So, help me God.)

2. Phumlani M Majozi, a political analyst, believes Zuma’s strategy in KZN was to split the ANC into two factions to weaken them. He sees the MKP as a “faction” of the ANC that will disappear if Zuma is no longer there.

Another commentator, Rob Hersov, sees certain parties are not in favour of our Constitution as it is and would like to change it. As we move forward in a coalition government, the ANC may shed more support as certain factions within the ANC may support different views than the ‘majority’ ANC view. Many utterances and actions from politicians indicate that South Africa has become divided on the geopolitical landscape.

There are pro-Western forces allied to the US, Europe, and Ukraine on one side and Russia on the other. There are also pro-Palestinian views contrasting with the pro-Israel views, and this is dividing South Africans. Within our own political parties, the support varies in substance, and it becomes worrisome when one hears that a party states that they are Putin, and Putin is them. Claims are made that our political parties are funded by overseas interests and that become a fundamental problem as we should sort our own problems first.

3. The Ingonyama Trust was established in 1994 by the erstwhile KwaZulu government in terms of the KwaZulu Ingonyama Trust Act (Act No 3 KZ of 1994) to hold all the land that was owned or belonged to the KwaZulu government. The mandate of the trust is to hold all this land for the “benefit, material welfare, and social well-being of the members of the tribes and communities” living on the land.

Currently, 2.8 million hectares of land in KwaZulu-Natal is under the administration of the Ingonyama Trust, whose sole trustee is the Zulu regent (previously King Goodwill Zwelithini).

According to the MKP, its manifesto contains the following statement: “Accelerating Redistribution: Fast-track land redistribution policies while maintaining food security and increasing food exports.” Almost half of the KZN population lives in the trust land. There is a saying that charity starts at home. The redistribution of land in KZN (the second most populous province in the country with almost 12 million inhabitants) may just be a good place to start.

4. In 2021, South Africa experienced the most violent upheaval in the country’s history since our newfound democracy in 1994. Several reasons were considered as to what had caused the unrest, but there is no doubt that the main reason for this unrest was Zuma’s arrest for contempt of court and the jail sentence imposed on him.

In the same year, almost unreported, a hugely important court judgment went down in the same province. In a ruling, the Pietermaritzburg High Court declared the actions of the Ingonyama Trust unlawful and in violation of the Constitution in initiating leases with people already residing on Zulu customary land.

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) instituted an application in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in 2018 on behalf of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) and seven individual holders of informal land rights against the Ingonyama Trust, Ingonyama Trust Board and the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, which was heard before a full bench on 9 and 10 December 2020.

The LRC argued on behalf of its clients that the conduct of the Ingonyama Trust in inducing rights-holders to enter such leases was unlawful. In a unanimous judgment handed down on June 11, 2021, the court made the following order:

“Both the Ingonyama Trust and the Ingonyama Trust Board acted unlawfully and in violation of the Constitution by concluding residential lease agreements with persons living on the land held in trust by the Ingonyama and concluding residential lease agreements with persons who held or were entitled to hold permissions to occupy or other informal rights to land protected under the Interim Protection of Land Rights Act 31 of 1996.

“All the residential lease agreements concluded by the Trust and the Board, in respect of residential land or arable land or commonage on Trust-held land, are declared to be unlawful and invalid.

“The Trust must refund all monies paid to the Trust or the Board under the lease agreements to the persons who made such payments and any person who made payments under the lease agreement is entitled to a refund by the Trust to the extent of such payments.

“The Minister has breached her duty to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the constitutional right to property of the holders of IPILRA rights vested in respect of the Trust-held land, by failing to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the existing property rights and security of tenure of the residents of Trust-held land, as required by sections 25(1) and 25(6) of the Constitution, read with section 7(2) of the Constitution, and failing to exercise, or failing to ensure the exercise by her delegate, of the powers conferred by chapter XI of the KwaZulu Land Affairs Act 11 of 1992 and the KwaZulu Land Affairs (Permission to Occupy).”

Initially, the Trust appealed the decision of the court but later withdrew its appeal and thus the decision is binding.

5. It will be interesting to see how the new KwaZulu-Natal provincial government manages the land issue of the Ingonyama Trust and whether it will honour the court’s decision. Will many of the five million residents become title holders of the land they occupy? There is huge economic value for any individual who owns a property and holds a valid title deed as opposed to a lease agreement that they need to pay for. Most lending institutions rely on collateral security when they advance loans.

The governance principles of KwaZulu-Natal will be of immense importance to the stability and order in our democracy. Will they uphold the rule of law and adhere to the principles laid down in the Constitution or was the formation of the new party to serve the interest of the ex-president?

* Kruger is an independent analyst