Jacob Zuma turns Nkandla around

2014-04-27 15:00

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On Wednesday afternoon at a tiny stadium in Langeloop in Nkomazi on Mpumalanga’s Wild Frontier, President Jacob Zuma finally – and rather emphatically – got the Nkandla monkey off his and the ruling party’s back.

Until Wednesday, the president had generally steered away from talking about the Public Protector’s report into the R248?million security upgrade at his home while on the campaign trail across the country, dealing with questions but not dwelling on the matter.

Zuma had, in comparison to the messianic figure he cut during the 2009 and 2011 campaigns, come across as tired and embittered, a president under pressure who was almost a hollow image of himself.

The constant pressure over Nkandla and the other scandals of his chaotic first five years in office seemed to have gotten to him.

Zuma had also, unlike in earlier campaigns, started getting stuck into the opposition himself. Since assuming power, he had left the close combat with the Helen Zille’s of this world to figures like Julius Malema and Blade Nzimande, never giving them the credibility of tackling them himself.

But the past few months have seen Zuma acting as his own pit bull, going for the opposition in virtually every speech.

At Langeloop, this all changed. In front of the several thousand locals who had turned out to catch a glimpse of the ANC president, a visibly invigorated and emboldened Zuma used Nkandla as a stick with which to smite his and the ruling party’s enemies.

Flanked by Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza and State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Zuma tore into the opposition parties – without dignifying any by naming them – for using Nkandla as a campaign tool.

These “people who talk a lot” had cynically and deliberately jumped the gun in a calculated deflection, accusing him of corruption before the Special Investigation Unit had wrapped up its work to cover up for the thinness of the manifestos and policy packages.

“They talk about Nkandla as if Nkandla will win them the elections. All they say is Nkandla, Nkandla, Nkandla, Nkandla,” Zuma said.

The audience went silent for a second and then applauded loudly. The president was his own wrecking ball as he gutted his critics, punctuating his delivery with timed outbursts of “Nkandla, Nkandla, Nkandla, we mame”.

The audience lapped it up.

In a brief post-rally media briefing, Zuma continued to press home the attack.

There was a spring in Zuma’s step as he surged away from the TV cameras, swinging a stick he had been given by traditional leaders from the region in a fluid move and joking with his bodyguards as he prepared to leave for Pretoria ahead of Thursday’s campaigning in the Northern Cape.

Granted, the rally was a home fixture – the ANC took 85,8% in Mpumalanga in 2009 and 78,9% in 2011 and was talking 90% and above during this visit.

In Tsakane shopping mall in Gauteng, Zuma charmed a book vendor Zandile Mnisi with his purchases: a Zulu Bible and a copy of A Divine Revelation of Heaven by Mary K Baxter.

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