Why Is Jacob Zuma Suddenly Winning His Court Cases: Big Capital’s Political Power Play?  

  • Zuma’s re-emergence as an antithesis  
  • The court victories raise a crucial question: what changed?
  • Corporate SA’s long-haul strategy to unseat the ANC 
Former President Jacob Zuma addresses Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party supporters outside the Johannesburg High Court after he won his appeal against his disqualification by the Electoral Commission (IEC) of South Africa. (Photo: Emacous Photography 24).

On Tuesday, 9 April 2024, the electoral court set aside the IEC’s decision to bar former president Jacob Zuma from running for a parliamentary seat. The IEC had disqualified Zuma due to his criminal record, including a 15-month jail term in 2021. UMkhonto weSizwe Party appealed against the IEC’s decision. The electoral court granted leave to appeal and set aside the IEC ruling. 

This decisive turn of events paves the way for him to contest a seat in the National Assembly in the national elections on 29 May 2024. The ruling could potentially mobilize ANC voters who remain loyal to Zuma and disillusioned with the party’s stewardship of unequal societies. It also presents a new dynamic that could have been predicted just a year ago. This article argues that political theory, specifically the Marxian base-superstructure and the Hegelian dialectic, is more useful than legal doctrines in understanding the implications of yesterday’s court decision that gave Zuma and his MK Party renewed confidence ahead of the elections.  

Political power plays leave many people bewildered — a clear sign that they have never truly understood the game of capital (Big Capital or white monopoly capital) from day one. Corporate SA facilitated the end of apartheid, which means they know the game better than anyone else. 

In ‘The ANC Billionaires,’ Pieter du Toit questions whether clandestine agreements were made between capital and the ANC to maintain the existing economic policy framework. The book also exposes people who got rich by leveraging their connections to the ANC and the business world. Du Toit also illustrates the ANC’s lack of readiness to handle the convergence of business interests and political dynamics. 

This relationship has ensured nothing changed after 1994. The ANC and many people still do not appear to grasp Big Capital’s powerplay. The crux of this article’s argument is simple: successive court victories by Zuma and his MK Party go against the tide, where Zuma always lost cases, and the law often seemed to bend to pin him against the wall.   

Now, the court victories raise a crucial question: what changed?  

The answer lies in the Hegelian dialectic, essentially a sophisticated way of stating that progress happens through conflict. According to Hegel, an initial idea (thesis) encounters opposition from its contrary (antithesis), leading to the emergence of a refined and more developed idea(synthesis). The synthesis is capital’s intent of redefining the country’s political dynamic for its selfish ends. 

Former President Jacob Zuma outside the Johannesburg High Court during his case against the IEC. The writer says the decisions favouring Zuma and the MK Party have little to do with justice but everything to do with what Big Capital seeks to achieve: ousting the ANC and gaining control over South Africa (synthesis).

 Corporate SA’s long-haul strategy to unseat the ANC 

Big Capital has long expressed its misgivings with the ANC. South African businesses have long been accused of sitting on piles of cash (reserves) instead of investing it back into the economy. In 2017, UJ’s Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development estimated that cash reserves in the JSE’s largest 50 companies were R1.4 trillion in 2016.  

During this period, Corporate SA was actively implementing its long-haul strategy. It deployed the Hegelian dialectic to demonize Zuma (thesis) and sow divisions within the ANC, thus separating the organization into two major, conflictual factions. Therefore, the emergence of the MK Party in late 2023 was not a surprise.  

Big Capital wielded its power (through the judiciary) to ensure that Zuma became South Africa’s foremost political scarecrow (or the  Zuma gevaar). With all things being equal, everyone was excited and more than convinced that Zuma was indeed the villain he was portrayed to be. What was difficult to explain is that South African politics continued to be turbulent. 

Additionally, Big Capital played a significant role in determining the new leadership of the ANC by pouring billions into its 2017 conference. However, Zuma’s departure did not result in harmony; instead, it led to more ructions that aligned with Big Capital’s strategy. Politically, the party continues to act in a contrarian manner, hastening its own demise. Its leaders openly talk about coalitions. 

Now that Big Capital and its close functionaries aim to oust the ANC, tactics have shifted, and the scales now tip towards Zuma (the antithesis). At this juncture, it is clear that legal doctrines fail to trounce politics. Big Capital’s political powerplay is about to unfold.

Rather than legal explanations, political theories provide a clearer picture of the complex forces driving Zuma’s political resurgence. Therefore, Marxist base-superstructure theory can illuminate how Big Capital exerts influence on South African systems, including the judiciary and politics.  

 Marxist base-superstructure model 

Karl Marx’s base-superstructure theory offers a profound lens through which to comprehend power dynamics and politics. At its core, this theory posits that societies are fundamentally divided into two interconnected components: the Base and the Superstructure. The Base represents the economic foundation of society, encompassing the means of production and the organization of labour.

Sandton City, often known as the richest square mile in Africa, is the home of big capital, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and South Africa’s wealthiest. The writer says Big Capital has leveraged the Jacob Zuma factor more than the ANC itself to advance its agenda of dominating the country’s political and economic landscape. (Photo: Xinhua)

In South Africa, this base is dominated by wealthy capitalists who control the vast majority of economic resources and wield significant influence over the political system. These capitalists exert their power through ownership of industries, financial institutions and land, shaping the economic landscape to serve their own interests. 

Conversely, the Superstructure comprises the social, cultural, and political institutions that emerge from the economic base. These include governmental structures, legal systems, educational institutions, healthcare systems, and cultural norms. In South Africa, the superstructure reflects the pervasive influence of big business across various spheres of life. 

Marx’s theory underscores the fundamental relationship between the economic base and the superstructure. Therefore, it assists in shaping the understanding of how society functions under the capital’s tight grip. Contrary to popular belief, capital has overseen all political systems in South Africa from its early days. The power of money means that judicial decisions have to serve a specific purpose, and companies joyfully ‘donate’ millions to political non-starters to unseat the ANC. 

 Big Capital and the South African throne 

Capital has long exerted influence, dating back to the merger of British and Boer interests in 1910. This indicates that the foundations of the modern South African state have always served the interests of Big Capital. The Minerals-Energy Complex forms the backbone of the country’s economy.  

Representing British imperialism, Cecil J. Rhodes, followed by the Oppenheimer family, laid the groundwork for the state’s formation and the emulation of the British parliamentary system, strategically positioning mining businesses to influence the state.  It is not unreasonable to suggest that Cecil John Rhodes was also the progenitor of racism, cartels, monopolies, imperialism and class antagonisms in Southern Africa, with the Oppenheimers later perpetuating his legacy. 

Although many people prioritize interpreting politics based on what they believe it should be rather than what it truly is, it is imperative to present a stark reality. Big Capital has leveraged the Zuma factor more than the ANC itself to advance its agenda of dominating the country’s political and economic landscape.  

Even Hendrik Verwoerd found himself bewildered after leading South Africa out of British rule. New York Times’  Marilyn Berger claims that “Afrikaner nationalists who controlled the government from 1948, tried to have as little to do with Harry Oppenheimer as possible.” 

Former President Jacob Zuma and his MKP supporters have accused the South African judiciary of using the courts to persecute him for political reasons.

Even after gaining independence, big business held more sway than the Nationalist Party. Verwoerd acknowledged that “Mr. Oppenheimer, with all his financial power and extensive network, could potentially wield significant influence against the government and the state.” This motivated him to initiate an investigation by Professor Hoek in 1965 into monopolies and cartels in South Africa controlled by wealthy families like the Ruperts and Oppenheimers.  

By the 1980s, Anglo-American and a selected group of companies controlled 84% of the JSE market cap, with Anglo alone accounting for 44.2%. Harry Oppenheimer later positioned himself as a person who opposed apartheid, although his companies benefitted from the policy of racial discrimination, repression and low wages. In an interview, he said, “I’ve never thought that the policy of racial discrimination had been a great benefit to the business.”  

Oppenheimer and other capitalists initiated economic and social reforms in the 1970s that culminated in recognising labour rights and economic development, facilitated by the Urban Foundation. The labour union movement went on to play a crucial role in not only supplying the ANC with personnel but also as its alliance partner. 

 Zuma’s re-emergence as an antithesis  

The decisions favouring Zuma and the MK Party have little to do with justice but everything to do with what Big Capital seeks to achieve: ousting the ANC and gaining control over South Africa (synthesis). This means that Big Capital’s long-haul strategy is in full swing: Zuma’s re-emergence will contribute to the ANC’s decline. The court decisions in favour of Zuma and MK Paty should be considered together with massive funding given to Rise Mzansi, ActionSA and BOSA.  

Interestingly, it is not only the ANC that feels the threat of being unseated. The DA appears to be equally worried about losing the Western Cape. DA Leader John Steenhuisen recently said: “The biggest risk to continued progress and building a better future for all of us in this province is complacency and mercenary parties like the PA, Rise Mzansi, GOOD and NCC.” 

It seems that not even the DA understands Big Capital’s long-term strategy. Steenhuisen exclaimed, “They are not interested in taking on the ANC!” The fact that the DA, ANC factions and others helped in the manhunting of Zuma does not seem to count: MK Party and other new parties have been ushered in to alter the ANC’s ‘one-party democracy’. 

In conclusion, Zuma’s MK Party and other new parties may not win the elections, but they are well-positioned to cause turbulence in the South African political system. Whatever the outcome, it will play in Big Capital’s hands — and the ANC will not mind. As Sampie Terreblanche put it, the deal was sealed at Oppenheimer’s Little Brenthurst estate in the early 1990s. 

Siyabonga Hadebe is a PhD candidate in international economic law and a labour market expert based in Geneva.



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