ANC shocked at booing of Zuma, but party can’t ignore it — analysts

2013-12-11 00:00

THE booing of President Jacob Zuma at an occasion as reverent as Nelson Mandela’s memorial service is a strong message that people are unhappy with him, and a message he cannot afford to ignore.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said yesterday “the ANC has lots of work to do and to calmly reflect what the meaning of this could be”. But, he added, the context and setting was inappropriate.

“People may have grievances and see him as a symbol, whether it is of e-tolling or any other policy of the government,” Fikeni said.

In contrast, crowds gathering to watch a broadcast of the memorial at venues around KwaZulu-Natal were vocal in their support of Zuma as he was shown on television.

Zuma arrived at the stadium with two of his wives, Bongi Ngema and Thobeka Mabhija, and took his seat while greeting various dignitaries, with the boos ringing in his ears.

Some in the crowd accompanied the boos with thumbs-down gestures and rotating hand movements — the sign for a substitution in a soccer match.

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa repeatedly stepped onto the podium to ask for calm and to plead for discipline.

During Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech, Ramaphosa had to ask a brass band to stop playing. The band were seen leaving the stadium soon afterwards, as did scores of people, before Zuma started speaking.

Zuma’s reception was in contrast to that given to his predecessors Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and even F.W. de Klerk.

The booing came in the backyard of the ANC’s Gauteng region, which has a frosty relationship with the party’s national leadership.

Fikeni said he does not believe the booing was orchestrated.

Professor Sipho Seepe described the booing as “saddening and behaviour deserving of condemnation”, saying it had disrespected Mandela.

He said the incident was not an act of political expression against Zuma, but “thuggish” conduct that was embarrassing. “If any party is behind this, they should hang their heads in shame.”

In Pietermaritzburg, crowds ululated, whistled and clapped when they saw Zuma make his way into the FNB Stadium, and later when he delivered his address.

Those who booed Zuma during the memorial service did the country a disservice, said ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu.

“Whatever the motivation for this behaviour, the behaviour still remains condemned.

“It did the Madiba family, who are mourning, and also Mama Graca [Mandela’s widow Graca Machel] and Mama Winnie [his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela] … a terrible disservice,” Mthembu said, according to Sapa.

He said the ANC was shocked that the event had been politicised.

“It came as a bolt to all of us.”

Some people believe Zuma deserved to be booed.

“It’s because Zuma only considers himself and his family. He has a big house in Nkandla, yet his neighbour’s house leaks when it rains,” said Ntombi Pasi.

Her friend, who referred to herself only as Ma Nhose, said she was heartbroken when Zuma was booed.

“Mandela had a vision, Mandela lived that vision. But what Zuma speaks, he doesn’t live,” said Funeka Gingcara-Sithole (31), reflecting the mood of Zuma’s critics in the stadium.

“He should do the honourable thing and resign,” she added.

Political analyst Justice Malala said on eNCA that this unprecedented response signalled that Zuma is an increasing liability for the ANC in the run-up to elections.

Zuma and senior ANC officials remained stone-faced during the booing, and organisers at one point used a choir to try to drown out the hostile reaction.

While the booing was happening, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema tweeted, “The writing is on the wall. The defiant spirit of Madiba continues to speak to us.”

Malema followed the memorial service on television at home, but EFF supporters with their red berets were very visible in the crowd at the stadium.

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