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Jacob Zuma, the one-time leader of the African National Congress, becomes his political rival

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Unemployed graduates, struggling business owners and military veterans marched in South Africa’s eastern city of Pietermaritzburg this week, chanting the name “Jacob Zuma”.

About 500 demonstrators paralyzed parts of the city in KwaZulu-Natal province, Mr Zuma’s traditional stronghold. Zuma is the former president of South Africa and a member of the African National Congress, which ruled the country for three decades. .

The protests demanding water and electricity are a protest against common local problems and a show of power by the new party now led by Mr Zuma, known as umkhonto weSizwe, or MK, which hopes to undermine the dominance of his former allies.

“We have to fight for a change,” said Khumbuzile Phungula, 49, who participated in the march after her community was without water for weeks. “MK is about change.”

While vendors sold Jacob Zuma T-shirts and MK-branded energy drinks and men wearing military uniforms from the long-defunct anti-apartheid movement rallied the crowds, marchers represented Mr Zuma’s new party : a group of aggrieved voters who fell out with a ruling party they viewed as ineffective and corrupt.Mr Zuma’s supporters now form a large enough group Turn him into a potential kingmaker South Africa’s general election on May 29.

Mr Zuma himself did not attend the Pietermaritzburg march. Instead, he is preparing for a hearing in South Africa’s Constitutional Court on Friday to discuss whether Mr Zuma, 82, is eligible to run.he Resigned from top job in 2018 Convicted and sentenced three years later amid widespread protests Failure to attend corruption inquiryalthough in the end he Only served for two months 15 months sentence.

Mr Zuma also already faces factional fighting within his fledgling party: A senior People’s Party leader accused the party of forging signatures needed for the campaign, and police said they were investigating the accusations, but Mr Zuma dismissed the claims as unfounded. Unfounded smearing.

Yet none of these potential obstacles has deterred MP members or diminished Zuma’s status as a political threat.lower court Already decided MK plans to turn his next court appearance into a campaign event, where Mr Zuma is expected to address his followers.

Mr Zuma and his party quickly gained momentum by taking advantage of leadership bickering within the ANC and its failure to deliver basic services to South Africans. Since its formation five months ago, MK has upended the country’s political landscape and become one of the most visible opposition parties in a crowded arena.

Although they now blame the party he led for his problems, Zuma’s supporters remember fondly his decade in office, which included attending demonstrations in KwaZulu-Natal, the country’s second most populous province. Many people at the event.

Lucky Sibambo, a forestry engineer who described himself as a political spectator before MK was launched, helped mobilize the march. He said he believed Mr Zuma’s support for expropriating land without compensation and redistributing it would help black businesses like his.

Shumelele Mthembu, 28, said she had been unable to find paid employment despite having a postgraduate degree in clinical psychology. “Our relationship with the ANC is over,” she said as she watched the march from the balcony of a youth training centre. “We’re tired of lies and money missing.”

Mnqobi Msezane, 34, has been campaigning for Mr Zuma on university campuses, citing his pledge to provide free university education. Mr Msazane dismissed the corruption allegations that dogged the former presidency as a political ploy to stop Zuma from challenging the black political elite and end white South Africa’s economic dominance.

“Poverty has a color and it is black,” Mr. Msasane said.

Zuma has turned the court battle into fodder for campaign speeches alleging political persecution, while his supporters have repackaged the controversies of his presidency into success stories. Mashupi Herbert Maserumule, professor of public affairs at the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, said in an interview that although his popularity has helped the MK party grow, the scandal-plagued prime minister The former president also has a responsibility as party leader.

Maseru Muller said Mr Zuma had made it clear every time he addressed crowds that his personal grievances influenced the party’s policies. Mr Zuma, for example, has called for judicial reform, echoing his repeated claims that he is a target of the courts.

And, he added, “If he is no longer the face of MK, it will also mark the end of MK.”

But so far, the PPP’s growth has eroded support for older opposition parties such as the country’s official opposition, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters. Former Democratic Alliance MP and pastor Shawn Adkins even said he was fed up with the slow pace of community housing construction and decided to defect to the People’s Party during a march in Pietermaritzburg. “I’m sure of it,” said Mr. Adkins.

Support for the African National Congress declining year after year, Faced with a clear threat from the PPP, the ruling party is going head-to-head with its new rivals.

The ANC has recently deployed its senior leaders and coalition partners for what the party calls “an intensive week of campaigning in KwaZulu-Natal” in a bid to woo voters there. In addition to hundreds of volunteers, prominent figures from the African National Congress have spread across the province, forgoing large gatherings and making more personal home visits.

“We are actually working tooth and nail to talk to people and tell them that the ANC is still here, that the ANC is still strong and still deserves support,” said former ANC provincial president and presidential candidate Dr Zweli Mkhize . Campaigning in Eastwood Town, Pietermaritzburg.

Their efforts were rewarded by some locals.

One 65-year-old voter, Queenie Potgieter, said she would have supported MK if the ANC had not “warmed” her home, but a visit from Dr Mkhize changed her mind.

As Dr Mkhize handed out T-shirts and sarongs representing the party’s colours, first-time voter Tusiwe Mkhabela, 21, burst into tears when she saw a man she thought was a celebrity. She said the ANC had provided benefits and food parcels for her family and she believed they would also find her a job.

However, Annaline Merime, 28, who has never voted, is skeptical of the ANC staunch supporter. “They will only do it when it comes time to vote,” she said. “Where are they for the rest of the year?”

Dr Mkhize said the ANC was aware of its failures and would not underestimate Mr Zuma’s support in the province or the frustration of voters. Dr Mkhize said it was under Mr Zuma that the African National Congress developed in KwaZulu-Natal and it was Mr Zuma who groomed the province’s current leaders.

Dr Mkhize noted that the ANC had dealt with the issue of leaving the party before and said he remained cautiously confident.

“The only trouble for us is that President Zuma has never campaigned on the opposite side,” he said.

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