Storm Clouds Gathering Over South Africa

Jacob Zuma was forced out as head of the ANC at its annual National Executive Committee meeting in December 2017. It is worth noting that it is the head of the ANC who leads the ticket during South Africa’s national presidential election and is tantamount to certain victory. Although ousted as head of the ANC, Zuma was still president of South Africa heading into the 2019 national elections. Zuma’s replacement was the recently elected head of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa. It is also important to note that Ramaphosa was elected head of the ANC in December by a narrow margin.


By Morgan Norval l April 25, 2018

Jacob Zuma’s replacement, the recently elected head of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, gestures before iconic image of Nelson Mandela

Strom clouds are gathering over South Africa as ousted former president Jacob Zuma is assembling his forces for an internal fight within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to take down Cyril Ramaphosa who replaced Zuma as South Africa’s president.

Zuma was forced out as head of the ANC at its annual National Executive Committee meeting in December 2017. It is the head of the ANC who leads the ticket during South Africa’s national presidential election and is tantamount to certain victory.

Although ousted as head of the ANC, Zuma was still president of South Africa heading into national elections in 2019. Zuma is scheduled to undergo trial on corruption charges in June 2018. This upcoming trial would be a serious embarrassment for the ANC. The ANC wanted Zuma out as president before that trial started So Zuma was forced to resign as president on Valentine’s Day 2018, which many South Africans, no doubt, viewed as the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. If he had not resigned, the ANC-controlled parliament was prepared to oust him by means of a “no confidence” vote.

Zuma’s replacement was the recently elected head of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa. It is also important to note that Ramaphosa was elected head of the ANC in December by a narrow margin. Tribal politics, no doubt, played a part in the result.

The ANC is heavily centered on the Xhosa tribal grouping in South Africa. Ramaphosa, however, is a member of a smaller South African tribal group, the Venda. Zuma was neither a Xhosa nor a Venda but he was a Zulu. The Zulus are a very proud, militant tribal group who look down on non-Zulus. This attitude almost dashed the 1994 first post-apartheid election due to the rural chiefs and headmen of the Zulus –the “amikhozi” refusing to allow the South African Electoral Commission to set up voting stations and associated administrative infrastructure; one reason being they were damned if they were going to be run by a bunch of Xhosas.

This problem was resolved with a form of bribery involving the transfer of all tribal and state-owned land in Kwa-Zulu—about 5 million acres—to a body called the Inqwazuma Trust, which would be presided over by the Zulu king. This satisfied the amikhozi and the election proceeded in KwaZulu. Recently, however, the ANC has decided to eliminate the trust, to the supreme displeasure of the Zulu king and residents of KwaZulu land.

Zuma, being one who is not hesitant to settle scores, old as well as new, is preparing to launch a retaliatory campaign against not only Ramaphosa, but the national ANC.

On April 8, 2018 a frontpage article in the Cape Town Sunday Times outlined Zuma’s plan, which amounts to a full-scale rebellion aimed at kicking out Ramaphosa and “punishing” the national ANC. According to the Sunday Times article, Zuma’s KwaZulu ANC group planned “to defy Ramaphosa’s leadership and operate as an autonomous ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. This would include running a separate [2019 national] election with Zuma as its face. Speculation is rife in the province that the Zuma grouping is even considering the mobilization of its members and supporters not to vote for the ANC on the national ballot next year, to spite Ramaphosa. They want to create a quasi-federal province. They will campaign for KwaZulu-Natal to vote overwhelmingly for the party on the provincial ballot and channel votes elsewhere nationally to punish the ANC nationally.”

A factor that may aid Zuma’s scheme is that a large number of Zulus live and work in cities outside their KwaZulu-Natal homeland. However, their loyalty is likely to the tribe back home and not to the folks where they currently live.

If Zuma’s scheme is successful – the establishment of a strongly semi-independent autonomous province – then the other provinces are likely to demand the same dispensation for their own autonomy. Were that to happen, it could easily destroy the current political structure and Balkanize South Africa into many smaller self-governing units. A – a

KwaZulu is like Russia controlling oil and gas to Europe in that it is in a geographical and strategic position to inflict great harm on the South African industrial heartland—the Vaal Triangle. The main oil pipeline to this area runs through KwaZulu. Not only that, but the main road and rail transport routes running to the country’s main trade port of Durban also run through KwaZulu. A fiercely autonomous nationalistic KwaZulu could hold these hostages.

South African intelligence estimates that disruption of these infrastructures for even a couple of months would cause long term, if not permanent, damage to the economy. This constitutes an unspoken but totally hidden aspect of what may happen with Zuma and his political campaign against Ramaphosa and the ANC.

Any sort of police or military action to reduce this, if it occurs, would be a nightmare. It is hilly terrain which means the forces involved must travel by foot. Such an action would not sit too well with the locals, if the forces involved were other than Zulus. Sending in Xhosa forces, for example, would likely lead to a huge rebellion, since the two tribes have hated each other for as long as can be remembered. Such a security force action would also be very labor intensive—policemen or soldiers—and be very expensive. The Zulu thus have a sword of Damocles they can hold over the Vaal Triangle. Storm clouds are indeed gathering over South Africa.


Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

Related Articles