IT WAS a series of ‘inflammatory speeches’ made outside former president Jacob Zuma’s estate in Nkandla which had initially lead to the suspension of Carl Niehaus’s ANC membership on 7 July 2021. At a press briefing flanked by camouflage wearing cadres of uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) and members of the ‘Hands off Zuma’ campaign, Niehaus had issued an open threat of public violence the day before:
“We’ve warned the national executive committee of the ANC and also the justices of the constitutional court, and also the deputy chief justice Zondo that if cool heads and minds do not prevail, if president Zuma continues to be targeted and if president Zuma is eventually sent to prison, that our country will be torn apart.”
Railing against the manner in which the Zondo commission of inquiry into corruption, was being used in a ‘selective manner’ for party-political infighting, or so he claimed, he promised that members of his organisation would ‘form a human shield to protect Zuma’.
Thus set in motion a series of events which would ignite Kwazulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, as Zuma’s support base was nevertheless, and despite such warnings, drawn into a partisan factional battle that had been brewing for months.
Convoys of supporters had already descended upon the Zuma compound over the weekend, and thus an early attempt at the arrest of the former president had been thwarted. Firing live bullets, singing struggle songs, they formed themselves into regiments, and told the press that they were ‘not scared to die for Zuma’.
It was then that the unthinkable happened, the ANC divorced its former military wing.
Niehaus had in turn released a statement of open defiance, flouting the ANC national executive committee (NEC) decision to disband the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA).’
Shortly after the NEC announced its decision to disband the MKMVA, Niehaus had issued a ‘statement saying the NEC — the ANC’s highest decision-making body in between conferences — had been emotional and angry.’
Niehaus said the move was ‘unacceptable and the MKMVA would not accept it.’ “We are an autonomous structure, and it is not legally nor politically possible for the ANC to disband the MKMVA,” he said.
Though the stage had been set for a paramilitary showdown at Nkandla, with Zuma addressing both members of the ‘Hands off Zuma’ campaign, and his amaButho Zulu regiments, where he essentially worked the crowds into a partisan insurrection, the former president had appeared to blink, and seemingly backed off, instead handing himself over to authorities the next day.
On the following Friday, the high court dismissed an application to have Zuma’s arrest the previous night overturned in a case that was being seen as a ‘test of the post-apartheid nation’s rule of law’ by the international community. An hour before the ruling, a Reuters photographer saw a group of protesters shouting “Zuma!” burning tires and blocking a road.
By Saturday evening sabotage operations aimed at bringing Kwazulu-Natal and the rest of the country to a grinding halt were well underway as a powder keg of poverty caused by the ruling party’s lack of service delivery, turned into a weapon at the hand of KZN’s warlords.
This week, Niehaus released a statement essentially daring Minister Mbalula to arrest him and referring to a BBC interview in which the minister had not, contrary to his assertions, uttered so much as a word about the former ANC member.
That a virtual split in the ruling party was behind the sequence of events, can be seen by a march organised in its aftermath. The party was forced to issue a statement claiming that ‘motorcades and marches, held in the name of freeing former president Jacob Zuma, and linked to protesting “racist attacks” in Phoenix were not sanctioned by its provincial structure.
Meanwhile residents of neighbouring Ballito were bemoaning the fact that the Premier of the Province, Sihle Zikalala, instead of assisting the community had attempted to prevent crowd-control barricades from being erected.