Three months ago, Jacob Zuma was ousted as president of South Africa, in a humiliating end to his nine-year rule.
But he and his supporters seem determined to not go quietly.
Zuma reluctantly resigned from office after the ruling ANC party turned against him as his legal troubles and corruption scandals mounted ahead of next year’s elections.
His forced exit brought an end to a presidency marred by increasing anger over unemployment, poor housing and decrepit services for many poor black communities in post-apartheid South Africa.
His successor Cyril Ramaphosa promised a “new dawn” for citizens and foreign investors.
But Zuma’s shadow is looming large over the Ramaphosa era as his allies launch a fightback within the African National Congress (ANC).
“There is bad blood there, and Zuma is feeling betrayed — it is an open secret,” political analyst Somadoda Fikeni from the UNISA university in Pretoria told AFP.
Zuma, a Zulu traditionalist from the key province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), has tapped into his homeland support since being dethroned.
“He has retreated to his traditional base of KZN — that’s where he may cause the most damage,” said Fikeni.
“Some of his associates fear that his fall from grace may lead to their own fall — so, by keeping him strong, they are attempting to bargain” for their own position.
– ‘Hands off Zuma’ –
Zuma’s most notable public appearance since his resignation was in April in the dock of the High Court in Durban, the capital of KZN, to face corruption charges dating back to before he came to power.
He turned the event into a public rally, emerging from court to address several hundred supporters who were singing “Tell us what he has done wrong” and “Hands off Zuma”.
Zuma told them the charges against him were “politically motivated” — a defiant speech signalling his determination to extract the maximum political price from the ANC and Ramaphosa for his ousting.
KwaZulu-Natal, the largest region of ANC membership in the country, has been a fierce battleground between party factions — often spilling into violence and even a string of assassinations.
“The network of patronage built around Jacob Zuma… is still alive — and desperate for survival,” political commentator Justice Malala wrote this week.
“This faction is regrouping… They intend to build an anti-Ramaphosa stronghold in KZN.”
Zuma, 76, was due to stand down as president at the 2019 elections after serving the maximum two terms.
But his apparent plan to ensure protection by positioning his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor was derailed when she was defeated by Ramaphosa in the December vote for a new party leader.
Ramaphosa’s narrow victory did not give him complete control of the party.
Zuma ally Ace Magashule was elected to the senior role of party secretary-general, while Ramaphosa appointed Dlamini-Zuma as a minister in a compromise gesture.
The challenges facing the new president have been underlined by his efforts to force North West province premier Supra Mahumapelo, another Zuma loyalist accused of corruption, from office.
Mahumapelo refused to resign, and Ramaphosa took the unprecedented step of taking the provincial administration under central government control.
– Avoiding prison –
Ahead of elections that could threaten the ANC’s hold on power for the first time, Ramaphosa must unite the party — despite Zuma’s manoeuvrings — and revive its image battered by record unemployment and stagnant growth.
Zuma built pockets of loyalty in local ANC branches throughout his years in office, and the threat of him rallying anti-Ramaphosa support presents a tricky test for the new president.
The ultimate goal for Zuma is likely to be to retain enough political influence to fend off a jail term as multiple corruption allegations make their way to court.
“The prosecuting authorities may be influenced to not prosecute him vigorously,” Pierre De Vos, constitutional law expert at the University of Cape Town, told AFP.
“But in principle, the support he has shouldn’t make any difference whether he will be convicted.”
Some analysts predict his legal battle could last a decade.
For now, Zuma is spending time at his Nkandla homestead in KZN — a sprawling property where public funds to build a swimming pool and other upgrades led to him being rebuked by the Constitutional Court in 2017.
He is also reportedly planning to marry 24-year-old Nonkanyiso Conco, who is 52 years his junior and would become his fifth current wife.
Mhlabunzima Memela, a senior ANC figure close to Zuma, dismissed reports of Zuma being involved in factional party battles.
“The former president is not contesting anything,” he told AFP.