EXCLUSIVE: Nothing stops Zuma’s dance

2011-05-14 15:21

It’s around midday on Tuesday at ­Nokoneng near Siyabuswa in Mpumalanga and ANC president Jacob Zuma looks dead on his feet.

Battling a bout of flu and a dodgy knee, Zuma kicks off his campaign address in the dusty, forgotten town in the strife-torn Dr JS Moroka local municipality with an apology for his condition.

There are unhappy murmurs from the faithful who have gathered to hear the man speak.

Zuma is the first president to have ­visited their village, located in an ­ANC-run municipality in which service delivery has suffered at the hands of ­infighting between the mayor and ­municipal manager, and tensions ­between councillors and local traditional leaders over development projects.

Favouring the gammy knee and speaking in a hoarse whisper, Zuma starts his short address tentatively.

He runs through the rap, which is to be the format for the rest of his week in KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Eastern Cape. The content is direct and almost ­brutally simple.

It’s also damn effective, and goes like this: “The ANC is far more than a political party. It is umbutho ­wabantu, the ­movement of the people formed in 1912 to unite the majority of South Africans in response to the ‘national challenge’ thrown up by the union in 1910 between the British and the Boers.

“The ANC delivered freedom in 1994. People died and suffered for this freedom and it is the duty of every South African to pay tribute to those lives that were lost and those bodies that were broken.

“There is only one way to do this: vote ANC on May 18. And make sure that you get yourself and every other person you can to the polling booth to vote ANC. ­Simple, ne?”

The crowd loves it, as they do in Msinga, Pomeroy, Wembezi, Phelwane, Park ­Station, Lichtenberg and Port Elizabeth.

It’s the most basic of messages: a highly emotional appeal to a sense of loyalty and historical attachment to the ruling party, and a call to ignore failings in delivery at the local level and focus on freedom rather than potholes.

It’s also an appeal to trust “the party which brought you freedom in 1994” to get things in order after May 18, and a promise of delivery in the longer term.

As Zuma wraps up, his voice is finished, but he still launches into his anthem, Awuleth’ Umshini Wami.

Gospel legend Solly Moholo and his group join Zuma on stage. Bad knee or not, Zuma whacks it with Moholo’s troupe.

There’s some serious high kicking, much to the displeasure of his physician, Dr Harold Adams, who travels with him and doses him with flu medication and ­anti-inflammatory pills just before he takes to the stage.

When Zuma arrives at Wembezi outside Estcourt the next evening, after a day of campaigning in the KwaZulu-Natal ­Midlands, he’s back to his A-game. His voice is strong. As darkness falls on the freezing stadium, he leaps around the stage like a man half his age.

And the punters lap it up.

In a snatched interview after an ANC campaign rally in Port Elizabeth on ­Friday, Zuma attributes his remarkable ­energy on the road and his speedy recovery to personal fitness and determination.

“It is my nature generally. I’ve been ­active my whole life, but there’s also the commitment to wanting to succeed in what you’re doing.

That counts a great deal. I’ve never accepted that as a person you should be unfit. I think you should be fit and I think I am able to do it,” he says.

“If there is work to be done for the ANC, nothing will stand between me and that work. Absolutely nothing. I don’t even feel it if I have flu or a knee problem, or ­whatever the issue is,’’ he adds.

He’s upbeat about the ANC campaign, saying: “Generally, the local government campaign is not always easy because of its nature, but I must say I’ve found this one really impressive. The response from the people has been very warm. I feel it has been a very good campaign. I’m happy with it. I’m very comfortable. I think we are doing very well.’’

Living conditions in some parts of the country are, according to Zuma, heartbreaking. He says: “I’ve been to all the provinces. There are people who are living in very difficult conditions. You see people who don’t seem to have any immediate hope.

We have found people who are ­disabled, but are without wheelchairs because the system is not able to reach them.

“In some places, we have found young children who are not able to go to school, who do not have support.

“We have done what we can to give ­immediate help. Today we have delivered a wheelchair to one family. We have picked up on a few other people already to try and help.”

Zuma says one of the most painful ­issues of the campaign has been that of open toilets.

“Some of the things that one finds really give one serious problems. The news about toilets has to be the most disturbing – that in this time and age you have those kinds of toilets that is most dehumanising,” he says.

Zuma believes that the campaign ­content has been enough to halt the ­“no-vote lobby” in its tracks and stop ANC members from voting for independents – thrown up by the ANC’s bungled candidate-list process – or opposition parties.

He also believes it has been sufficient for the ANC to maintain control of the metros across the country and take Cape Town from the DA.

Zuma says: “I think people have ­understood the message we are putting across very well. I think the message will have made those who were doubtful more certain about what to do on the 18th.

“I am confident about all the metros that have been under the ANC. I am even more confident that when it comes to the metro that has not been under the ANC in Western Cape, we are going to take it.”

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