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‘Zuma is the most talented politician in SA,’ says Steinberg

Former President Jacob Zuma is the most talented political player by a country mile, he’s in a league of his own, says Jonny Steinberg, a respected author and teacher at Yale University’s Council on African Studies.

He said Zuma is the most impressive and best intuitive politicians that has come out of South Africa in the past 30 years of democracy.

“He alone has mined down to the tectonic plates deep under SA’s social formation and shifted them to produce a politics that brings him power,” Steinberg said.

ZUMA IN A LEAGUE OF HIS OWN – STEINBERG

“Nobody else has come anywhere close to doing that. He is in a league of his own,” he wrote in Business Day.

He said Zuma’s ability to emerge from the shadows and shake the political ‘tectonic plates deep under SA’s social formation’ was impressive, and he might just do it again.

“The story began, famously, in 2005, when Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma as deputy president, thinking he had cast him permanently into the wilderness. What Zuma did instead was head for the provinces and build the ANC around an insurgency against Mbeki. True, he did so largely in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, but he found allies to do the same in the Free State and Mpumalanga,” Steinberg writes.

‘MOBILISED DISGRUNTLED MIDDLE CLASS TO FORM A POLITICAL FORCE’

“What he did, essentially, was mobilise a disgruntled provincial middle class across a swathe of central and northeastern SA to take control of the ANC to collectively accumulate wealth through its offices. It took a granular, intuitive understanding of this discontent to see the possibility, plus the formidable skill required to mould it into a political force,” he continues. 

“The thing about SA is that it is such a divided place, our ignorance about one another so complete, that people in the metropolitan centres had no idea what Zuma was doing. Even once his project became visible, people didn’t understand it. State capture had already begun before the penny dropped.” Steingberg points out.

He said that looking back now from early 2024, the violence of July 2021 unrest left a memory trace and a set of networked connections. 

FEW PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT THE BIRTH OF MK PARTY – STEINBERG

“Who would have thought that these connections would be remobilised, not for another round of violence but to form a political party?” Steinberg wrote. “Once again, few people in metropolitan SA knew what was happening.”

“Throughout January, I spoke to several senior ANC people in Johannesburg who were hardly concerned about the newly formed Umkhonto we Sizwe Party. It was only when by-election results from KwaZulu-Natal started coming in that people looked up in shock.,” he said.

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