Deconstructing SA’s political scenery: MK and the battle of two ANCs

Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Like other splinter parties that have adopted the ANC’s policy agenda, MK’s emergence has elicited the ANC’s disapproval, as the ANC fears losing votes to the new party, says the writer. Picture: African New Agency (ANA) Archives

Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa. Like other splinter parties that have adopted the ANC’s policy agenda, MK’s emergence has elicited the ANC’s disapproval, as the ANC fears losing votes to the new party, says the writer. Picture: African New Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Jan 14, 2024


By Siyabonga Hadebe

DUBBED “Zuma’s tour de resistance” by News24 journalist Siyamtanda Capa, former president Jacob Zuma and the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party drew large crowds in Mkhondo as the ANC announced its preparations for its annual January 8 celebrations in Nelspruit.

Some observers view this as a “battle of two ANCs” poised to determine the outcome of the upcoming national elections in a few months.

If the recent events are any indication, the ANC could face serious challenges in some of its traditional strongholds. The re-emergence of Zuma and the new party on the South African political scene continues to send shock waves through the country and has left the ANC reeling, seemingly devoid of a coherent response to the disruptive force.

MK’s success hinges on Zuma’s ability to mobilise his former supporters and tap into the ANC’s legacy of liberation Struggle.

This article criticises the inadequacy of dominant political discourses to explain the unexpected shift, drawing parallels to the elusive phenomena of dark matter and dark energy in particle physics.

It also underscores the failure of normative and democratic theories to engage effectively with the post-apartheid black majority, exposing the credibility gaps within South Africa’s political system.

Applying French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s method of deconstruction, this article seeks to unravel the complexities surrounding the rise of MK. As defined by Merriam-Webster, deconstruction involves dismantling and examining something to reveal biases, flaws or inconsistencies.

Through this lens, the article aims to expose contradictions and ambiguities within mainstream discourses, elucidating how intricacies disrupt the true meaning of political situations.

In his seminal work, “Of Grammatology” (1967), Derrida explains that deconstruction serves as a mode of critical analysis aimed at interrogating the assumptions and underlying structures inherent in narratives and various forms of discourse.

Thus, the primary objective of deconstruction is to unveil the contradictions and ambiguities residing within mainstream discourses in South Africa, demonstrating how the intricacies disrupt the real meaning of situations or occurrences.

Politically, the emergence of MK signifies a revival of the ANC’s armed wing during the apartheid era. The post-apartheid developments represent a dream deferred and an unfulfilled potential, a poignant reminder of what could have been if the black majority’s aspirations had been fully realised under their own rule.

Political analyst Siphamandla Zondi is correct to point out that MK is “in many ways just another faction of the ANC that has decided to operate from outside the ANC”. He further says that, like Cope, the UDM and the EFF, the new party also “wants to implement the ANC policies, resolutions and plans outside the ANC”. Therefore, the party does not need a distinct policy agenda of its own.

Like other splinter parties that have adopted the ANC’s policy agenda, MK’s emergence has elicited the ANC’s disapproval, as the ANC fears losing votes to the new party.

ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula has announced that the ANC will soon enforce Rule 25 of its constitution, which mandates disciplinary action against members who join or support opposing political parties. Therefore, I concur with Zondi’s assessment that Zuma is the primary factor driving the growth of MK’s support base

Discontent within the ANC and with the post-apartheid dispensation are secondary factors.

For many, MKy is inextricably intertwined with the ANC’s historical narrative and the political aspirations of the black majority. The party’s name evokes the legacy of the original MK, tapping into its symbolic power and the nostalgia of the liberation Struggle.

In mainstream political discussions, the liberation Struggle represents the past, hence the use of phrases like “previously disadvantaged”, “our dark past”, “post-apartheid” and so on.

Nonetheless, racialised and gendered poverty and inequalities persist in the “free” and “democratic” South Africa of today. The black majority continues to experience marginalisation, and vestiges of apartheid remain intact.

The issues are often denied or oversimplified by dominant liberal narratives, which fail to adequately address the deep-rooted causes, such as land dispossession, systemic racism, and the legacy of colonialism.

With almost three decades since apartheid ended, the chickens are coming home to roost, as neither democracy nor market-based solutions have proved to be effective solutions for the deep-rooted apartheid problem in South Africa.

Notwithstanding everything else, the occurrence of MK appears to resemble a bad reaction to an aggressive skin allergy, lacking the systematic logic dictated by theories of participative politics.

Therefore, the party is an impulsive and unsystematic response to a complex and deeply entrenched issue. Its emergence is a symptom of the broader failure of South Africa to address the lingering effects of apartheid adequately, and it represents a desire for a more radical and transformative approach to achieving social justice.

However, the country’s political oligarchy continues to ignore silent messages of discontent and instead, focuses on individuals.

Deconstructive framework and delayed meanings

In a satirical article published in the Daily Maverick, Rebecca Davis comically commented on MK’s launch. She sarcastically remarked: “But to think that Zuma is charming enough to launch a new party at 81 and have it win sufficient votes to eat the ANC’s lunch is bonkers. How could he possibly succeed without the aid of his former brother-in-arms Carl Niehaus?”

Derrida posits that language is inherently unstable, with meaning consistently deferred or delayed. Consequently, there is no singular, definitive meaning to a narrative; instead, meaning undergoes constant shifts and reinterpretations. Deconstruction endeavours to interrupt this meaning-making process by accentuating the contradictions and ambiguities embedded in discourses.

A pivotal concept within deconstruction is the trace, representing a mark or residue of something no longer present. In the deconstructive framework, traces are perceived as destabilising forces that disrupt the stability of meaning.

For instance, a word may bear a trace of its etymological roots, giving rise to multiple meanings or associations. Listening to political commentary in South Africa, it is evident no one is ready to engage the issues confronting the black majority. If the ANC is not a problem, Zuma is.

Another fundamental concept is différance, which denotes the manner in which meaning is invariably deferred or delayed through a process of differentiation. In this context, the meaning of a word is contingent on its difference from other words, and the difference can perpetually undergo deferral.

Thus, Derrida’s concept of difference underscores the fluidity and uncertainty of meaning in mainstream discourses surrounding MK.

The party’s name, which evokes the legacy of the liberation Struggle, is simultaneously deployed as a symbol of hope and a reminder of unfulfilled promises. This is a topic that the media and others would rather avoid.

As Aubrey Matshiqi observed, black South Africans may have a numerical majority but remain an insignificant cultural or social minority.

The question that begs to be answered is: How long must we endure the situation?

If no solution is found, phenomena like MK will continue proliferating in our political landscape. Before we know it, a devastating tsunami may crash upon our shores. The victims of Nyobeni and Phoenix have not seen justice since black lives do not matter in Africa’s last colony.

In conclusion, this op-ed employed the deconstruction lens to scrutinise MK’s political backdrop, illuminating the inconsistencies and complexities that permeate South Africa’s political landscape.

If the hype gets sustained, the new political force’s emergence should be interpreted as a symptom of broader systemic failures, prompting a re-evaluation of the dominant discourses and approaches in post-apartheid South Africa.

Political analysts and commentators cannot interpret social phenomena without their tainted lens, risking their failure to accurately predict and explain situations as they are rather than expressing their subconscious biases and différance.

In essence, pre-existing perspectives may influence their interpretations, hindering an unbiased understanding of complex social dynamics.

The main story that should be dominating headlines is an explanation of how South Africa’s most prominent political fugitive is poised to disrupt the political duet of the ANC and the DA, which had been considering potential coalitions.

Or, a plan is in the works to create legal obstacles to prevent Zuma from deciding the game in the next elections. What if he succeeds?

Siyayibanga le economy!

* Based in Pretoria, Siyabonga Hadebe is an independent commentator on socio-economics, politics and global matters. The views expressed here are his own.