Zuma is the hidden force fomenting ANC breakaway movements
Those laughing off reports of a new political party — or perhaps two — assembling around Jacob Zuma should think carefully before underestimating the propensity of the former president to cause chaos.
Such people are questioning who would still vote for Zuma. They also ask what his supporters think he can do for them now that he could not do in his 10 years as ANC leader and nine years as president.
While these might be logical questions, they are not under consideration by those mobilising support for Zuma's political revival.
In November 2008, people loyal to former president Thabo Mbeki announced the formation of a breakaway from the ANC. The ANC had recalled Mbeki two months earlier and his supporters, some of whom quit the cabinet in solidarity, were angry.
Mosiuoa Lekota, who later became president of COPE, said they were serving "divorce papers" on the ANC and accused it of steering the organisation "away from the established policy priorities and customary democratic norms of the ANC".
Lekota and his group basically wanted to establish the "real ANC" outside the ANC.
Similar thinking has infused Zuma's constituency. In the same political time period in which COPE was formed, plans have been forged to establish another ANC, to pursue a "radical" policy agenda.
There appear to be two groupings around Zuma that are working on establishing a new party. The first is a group of church leaders under the banner of the South African Council of Messianic Churches in Christ, a coalition that includes the Twelve Apostles Church in Christ, the Bantu Church of Christ, Zion Christian Churches and the Ebuhleni faction of the Shembe church.
The council has set itself up as a counter to the South African Council of Churches, which brings together most mainstream churches. The SACC took a strong stance against Zuma and state capture in the latter years of his presidency.
Months before the ANC's December elective conference, Zuma and some supporters had been quietly encouraging the messianic church leaders to forge ahead with plans for a political movement, apparently as a fall-back plan if Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma did not win the ANC leadership.
The churches have held mass meetings in the Eastern Cape, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal since last year, canvassing support for a new political organisation that would champion issues such as land expropriation without compensation, free education and a state bank. After Zuma's recall, the initiative gained momentum and the African Transformation Congress was born.
The messianic church leaders were all present at the High Court in Durban in April when Zuma made his first appearance on corruption charges.
The churches recently held two mass meetings in Durban, one for women and the other for traditional leaders, to continue consultations for the new party. Zuma attended both.
In the past few days, another group of KwaZulu-Natal activists announced to the media that they were lobbying support for a new party under the banner "Mazibuyele Emasisweni". They claim to have support from taxi operators and business people, as well as church groups. Some of the leaders of the messianic churches were taken aback by the announcement as they wanted to stay under the radar, mobilising support in their congregations.
And while the church leaders are not yet presenting Zuma as the face of their party, a spokesman for the Mazibuyele group, Frank Fakude, said they hoped Zuma would "rise up and continue with his programmes". Fakude also mentioned that they have the support of ANC members who are trying to lobby for an ANC national general council to have Zuma's recall reversed.
All these support groups, and Black First Land First leader Andile Mngxitama, were at Nkandla on Thursday for a "homecoming" celebration for Zuma, where he again played political victim and railed against the term "state capture". Zuma was presenting his new constituency with the script to defend him.
Former president Jacob Zuma attended a homecoming celebration organised by religious leaders and held in his hometown of Nkandla on May 31 2018. At the event, Zuma said the only crime he ever committed was to fight for freedom.
Officially, Zuma would deny knowledge or involvement in any organisation being set up as an alternative to the ANC. But all the people involved claim to have had consultations with him.
Zuma always thinks ahead and has a profound understanding of power and politics.
He also knows how to play people.
With the ANC no longer standing by him in his corruption trial and his resources to fight his legal troubles being cut off, Zuma needs to rally popular support and financial aid. He also needs platforms to maintain his political relevance.
During his previous round of legal troubles, Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC Youth League were able to provide him with such platforms and support.
This time, he anticipated trouble coming his way and got the church leaders mobilising support for a political alternative long before he was fired and his corruption charges reinstated.
Zuma is proving that he is still a political factor and for as long as he does not show his hand in mobilising support against the ANC, there is little anyone can do to stop him.
With new platforms at his disposal and in the context of instability in the ANC and volatility in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma remains dangerous.