With less than two months to South Africa's crunch election, scandal-tainted former president Jacob Zuma has stolen the spotlight in an unlikely comeback, further wounding the ruling ANC, analysts say.

Arguably the most polarising politician in the country's history of democracy, Zuma's politicking can be enthralling or perplexing.

The ex-leader who has made headlines almost daily in the southern African nation for a series of political engagements and court battles over his legitimacy to run in the May 29 poll -- remains at the centre of discourse both on and offline.

In December Zuma stunningly announced he would campaign for a new party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK).

That saw him suspended by the African National Congress (ANC), which is on the brink of dropping below 50 percent of the vote for the first time since it came to power in 1994.

"Zuma's comeback epitomises his intense anger with the ANC... almost a revenge on a political party that he believes has alienated him," political analyst Susan Booysen told AFP.

"So for his supporters the MK is a form of loyal revenge."

Many believed the 82-year-old's career would end when he was sentenced to 15 months in jail in June 2021 after refusing to testify to a panel probing financial corruption and cronyism under his presidency.

He was later freed on medical parole just two months into his term, but his jailing sparked protests, riots and looting that left more than 350 dead in South Africa's worst violence since the advent of democracy.

- 'Wounded lion' -

But why does the prominent freedom fighter turned corruption emblem still garner so much support?

Often the first to sing and dance, captivating large crowds with his jokes and one-liners the politician is constantly leveraging his charisma to hold onto power.

In the face of scandals and graft allegations, Zuma, remains popular particularly among the country's more than 10 million Zulus who affectionally call him by his clan name "Msholozi".

His home KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province is a key electoral battleground in this election.

"If his long-term objective is to become president again, that's never going to happen, I mean the guy is old," said author and sociologist Leslie Dikeni, with a slight chuckle.

"The objective here is to scatter the ANC and he is doing exactly that."

The ruling party unsuccessfully tried to have his MK disqualified and has taken it to court to stop it from using the MK name.

It has been taken from the disbanded military wing of the ANC and they are alleging intellectual property theft.

"His clinging onto power suggests fear to live as an ordinary citizen because he has seen the brunt of what it's like to live like an ordinary citizen with his imprisonment" said Nelson Mandela University politics lecturer Ongama Mtimka.

- Threats and violence -

Despite being barred by the electoral board to run in the May poll last month, Zuma was cleared to run by an electoral court on Tuesday. A verdict the board has appealed.

If the Constitutional court hears the appeal, "It will keep MK in the headlines and further unite the party around a narrative of persecution -- a narrative fmr pres Zuma thrives on," political commentator Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh wrote on X.

In recent months members of the leftist MK have threatened unrest if Zuma is excluded.

"They really trade on the threat," Booysen said, admitting it was "realistic" considering the past.

"But because... they are being scrutinised for this I think that reduces the chance of actual violence," but, "there is a possibility".

MK is expected to cut into the governing party's vote share, with the latest poll from South African think tank Social Research Foundation predicting the MK would be the second largest opposition at 13 percent. The ANC would take 36 percent and the official opposition 25 percent.

"Unlike last time, if violence happens again the army must act" Dikeni said.