South Africa’s Zuma a no-show at rally but fans keen for comebackSun, 21 Jan 2024 16:19:42 GMT

Supporters of South Africa’s embattled former president Jacob Zuma’s newly-formed radical left-wing party said Sunday they hope he might soon be the country’s leader again, even though he failed to show up at their rally.In a small stadium in Tembisa township, some 40 kilometres northeast of Johannesburg, a small crowd of about 300 gathered in anticipation of seeing their hero, singing anti-Apartheid struggle songs and sporting T-shirts with the ex-leader’s face.”I am here to see Zuma… he has always been a part of my life from the time I was also a student activist to formally joining the liberation movement,” Mandla Khoza, an MK party supporter told AFP.The 59-year-old father of four said he hoped the party could “make a difference”, in a South Africa troubled by failing infrastructure, a weak economy and violent crime.Last month Zuma announced he would be campaigning for the recently formed Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) party, named after the former armed wing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). The southern African country is expected to hold its general elections in the next few months, but Zuma, a former ANC stalwart who has already served two terms as president and has a conviction for contempt of court, so is theoretically barred from standing for elected office.His supporters dismiss this, and his new movement could influence the result if it recruits voters from President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC, which has been in government since 1994.  Under a scorching sun, marshals ushered a sea of excited and chatty supporters wearing the party colour, green, into a shaded pavilion. The leftist party was formed in September last year by “concerned” former soldiers of the previous MK, according to Khayanga Setlatjile, a coordinator for the event and himself a one-time anti-Apartheid combatant. “There’s no person who’s got love for his nation like a soldier,” he said, adding that there was “no better person” than Zuma, a former leader of the ANC armed wing, to head the movement. But, perhaps concerned by the small turn-out in Tembisa, he added: “We want to get rid of this notion that this is Zuma’s party”. – ‘Zuma will be president’-After hours of waiting, the former president did not show. But Siphamandla Zondi, a politics professor at the University of Johannesburg, told AFP that the small-size of the heavily-trailed event does not mean the party has no potential to build support.  “It indicated that there was inadequate organisation, particularly with those on the ground… as a result this is a bit of an embarrassment,” he told AFP. Organisation is “a skill they should learn very quickly”, Zondi said, but “in politics a day is a very long time. They’ve shown they have massive support in other provinces like KZN, and they’ve done it in Mpumalanga”. Recently there has been controversy around the idea that Zuma, who has been elected as president twice before, might run office again, this time as a challenger to the former comrades in the ANC.According to the constitution “no person may hold office as president for more than two terms”.But the party is not phased.”President Zuma can run, there is nothing stopping him,” party spokesman Nhlamulo Ndhlela told AFP.Ndhlela called for constitutional reform, arguing: “If the will of the people is such that President Zuma must be president then we must change the constitution to ensure that that happens.”According to Setlatjile, the party is yet to hold a conference to elect a permanent leader and leadership committee, which is likely to happen after the elections, and thus Zuma is an interim party leader.”Zuma will be president,” Ndhlela declared.