DENIALISM is an understandable human reaction – and a dangerous one. Those with faith in democracy tend to employ it when faced with populist threats from right and left: ‘they don’t really mean it’; ‘our strong institutions will prevent the worst’; ‘voters cannot possibly believe such fake history and falsehood’; and so on. But there is good cause, and historical evidence, to take the apparent bluster of extremists seriously. They do mean it and will put it into action if allowed.

The uMkhonto we Sizwe Party (MKP) as an extremist breakaway from the disintegrating ANC is a case in point. The idea that it has sprung from nowhere to contest the 29 May elections is mistaken. These were the instigators of the insurrection of 2021 that shook KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng and caused over 350 deaths. This was downplayed elsewhere, but has not been forgotten by those on the frontline who heard gunshots and smelled smoke for several days, and saw petrol stations and supermarkets going up in flames and business premises looted. The scale and sophistication of the damage indicated something far more organised than township protest.

Now in a just a few months a well-organised political party with all the usual trappings has emerged, apparently by magic. And it’s time for South Africa as whole to wake up; all the more urgent with the suspicion that the funding has come from Russian military intelligence who could have provided handy tips about insurgency three years ago.

In spite of the rhetoric, MKP is pure right-wing-populist-cum-fascist. Any hint of obstacle is met by crude threat. Spokesperson Visvin Reddy has indicated that should MKP be thwarted, it will seize control. This is worrying enough, but the party manifesto gives a clear idea of exactly what they will do with power. The manifesto comprises four main planks. The first of these, reducing the number of provinces from nine to four, is not new although it is hard to imagine a demarcation very different from that of colonial and apartheid times. Presumably one of the aims is to put any part of provincial government beyond reach of the opposition; so goodbye efficient government in the Western Cape. The urban areas will be politically sidelined by the rural, which ties in with the rest of the programme.

Another plank is expropriation of land without compensation, existing government policy. But the MKP would transfer ownership to the State and then place management in the hands of traditional leaders. If the history of the Ingonyama Trust in KZN is any guide, this will open wide the tap of extortion as chiefs are increasingly demanding rent; one of the reasons why former president Kgalema Motlanthe called for the trust’s abolition. Increased power for traditional leaders is very bad news for women and gay people. But the MKP’s bombshell is abolition of the Constitution.

As Moeletsi Mbeki famously put it, the Constitution represents South Africa’s revolution that overthrew colonialism and apartheid. Yet with it would disappear the bill of rights; and in would come majoritarian rule and parliamentary sovereignty – in other words dictatorship of the ethnic majority and abolition of all checks and balances and the separation of powers. There would be no protection for basic freedoms or any minorities ethnic or otherwise, including minorities within the African community. The position of the gay community in Uganda is a dire warning of what to expect. MKP’s figurehead, former president Jacob Zuma, has recently been screaming blue murder about the supposed deprivation of his constitutional rights; the very rights he proposes to abolish. He is not only a criminal but a total hypocrite.

In this quest for a so-called indigenous state would come African law, an absurd idea were it not so serious. Pre-colonial law was not uniform, nor codified because society was illiterate. The law was handed down by word of mouth, which means that the loudest and most forceful voice is likely to have prevailed. It was the colonialists who codified indigenous law no doubt to their own nefarious ends. And they also co-opted and interfered with traditional leadership. The very concept of indigenous law and governance is highly debatable. Why are the opposing parties to the amaZulu royal succession using state courts? Surely this is one matter above all that should and could be resolved within the indigenous system.

The aim of MKP is to turn to back the clock and recreate a feudal state in the twentieth century amenable to Putinesque type control. Although clearly Zulu nationalist, MKP’s agenda will appeal to many of the aggrieved throughout South Africa amenable to the call of populism. And the cause has a necessary and ready-made victim and messiah in the racketeer Zuma; the South African Trump. An MKP government would signal the end of modern South Africa. Hundreds of thousands of people would leave and no sane investor, local or foreign, would put money into the economy.

In spite of the rhetoric and bluster, the MKP will not form a national government – yet. But it stands a realistic chance of leading a coalition government in KZN and of using the province as a launching pad for wider ambitions, or even another uprising. It will almost certainly have a solid bloc of MPs in parliament including, amazingly, the notorious Zuma. If the ANC polls below 40% it may have to go into coalition with both the Economic Freedom Fighters and MKP, its twin fascist offspring. Given the personalities and animosities this stretches credulity, but we live in a highly volatile and unpredictable world of political surprise.

The danger of a three-way coalition is that although the ANC will be its senior element, it will implode. Many of its members are opportunists as the demise of Thabo Mbeki and the rise of Jacob Zuma demonstrated so clearly in the mid-2000s. If the radical current is strong enough it could pull in the unprincipled and alter the basis of national politics. South Africa would then be governed by those dedicated to lawlessness, corruption and the destruction of multiple freedoms. This is all too possible given deep anti-Western sentiment and a yearning for Russian-style autocracy.

One respected political commentator has already speculated that thirty years down the line since the establishment of democracy, these may be our last free elections. This has come about through a combination of incompetence, indifference, entitlement without responsibility, and sheer greed. Many people may be wondering whether they are not living out their last month in South Africa without the need to entertain serious thoughts of emigration. This will compound the South African tragedy ‒ an entirely self-inflicted one.

‘Only a fool would pretend to understand comprehensively what South Africa is really about or be objective or far-sighted enough to glimpse its future course’: that was written by the Afrikaner dissident Breyten Breytenbach during the violent transition from apartheid to democracy.[1] His words are no less relevant or compelling today.

[1] Return to Paradise, 1993.