JOHANNESBURG: With less than two months to South Africa’s crunch election, scandal-tainted former president Jacob Zuma has stolen the spotlight in an unlikely comeback, further wounding the ruling ANC, analysts say.

Arguably the most polarising politician in the country’s history of democracy, Zuma’s politicking can be enthralling or perplexing.

The ex-leader who has made headlines almost daily in the southern African nation for a series of political engagements and court battles over his legitimacy to run in the May 29 poll — remains at the centre of discourse both on and offline. In December Zuma stunningly announced he would campaign for a new party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK).

That saw him suspended by the African National Congress (ANC), which is on the brink of dropping below 50 per cent of the vote for the first time since it came to power in 1994.

“Zuma’s comeback epitomises his intense anger with the ANC... almost a revenge on a political party that he believes has alienated him,” political analyst Susan Booysen said. “So for his supporters the MK is a form of loyal revenge.”

Many believed the 82-year-old’s career would end when he was sentenced to 15 months in jail in June 2021 after refusing to testify to a panel probing financial corruption and cronyism under his presidency.

He was later freed on medical parole just two months into his term, but his jailing sparked protests, riots and looting that left more than 350 dead in South Africa’s worst violence since the advent of democracy. But why does the prominent freedom fighter turned corruption emblem still garner so much support? Often the first to sing and dance, captivating large crowds with his jokes and one-liners the politician is constantly leveraging his charisma to hold onto power.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2024

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