Will Zuma get his groove back?

2012-06-27 06:20

It was not Jacob Zuma the Superstar who came to Gallagher Estate in Midrand yesterday to open the ANC’s policy conference.

Gone are the days of crowds going wild at the mere mention of his name.

Shortly after his victory at the ANC’s elective conference in Polokwane, scenes resembling that of fans at a Michael Jackson concert ran endlessly on our TV screens.

He was the guy men wanted to be and women wanted to be with.

But those images were a distant memory when Zuma walked into Hall 3 yesterday.

The 3 500 delegates were pleased to see him, no doubt, but no one looked ready to kill for him anymore.

The mood was familial, if slightly joyless.

Like when you celebrate the birthday of an embarrassing uncle, and try to focus on his good characteristics, and forget his gambling and alcohol problem.

The chairperson of the gathering, in this case Baleka Mbete, used to have to stretch her vocal chords to breaking point to get the crowds to calm down.

But now they obeyed her without any dissent and sat down when they were told.

But it was clear Zuma was the only game in town. Last week he did a rushed cabinet reshuffle, even though it made no sense as ministerial disasters like Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is still in her job.

But it gave him a bit of an aura of being large-and-in-charge.

He fired one of his most trusted advisors, Zizi Kodwa, on suspicion that Kodwa might be playing for the other side.

Through this he showed no one is sacred.

And finally conference rules were amended to ensure none of the ill-discipline of the national general council in 2010 rears its head.

He seemed to have the party exactly where he wanted it.

His speech was practical and well thought through – not the usual rhetoric that puts us all to sleep.

He even took aim at an enemy who recently stuck out his neck – Veterans’ League president Sandi Sejake – who was told by Zuma to not get involved in “things that are controversial”, referring to Sejake’s less-than-flattering statements about Zuma’s leadership abilities.

Sejake’s League was started in 2007 by Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, so you can do the political math.

After his speech, in an attempt to breathe life into the relatively docile crowd, he shot off the opening lines of his personal anthem Umshimi Wam’. Soon everyone was on their feet, dancing and singing along.

The intervention by Sexwale during a discussion on conference rules was an own goal for the presidential hopeful.

Sexwale tried to tell conference it is breaking its own rules by singing songs linked to leaders – an act seen as divisive. But he’d hardly started before he was told by delegates to shut up and sit down.

 Which he did.

But just because Sexwale’s support barometer is running low, does not mean Zuma is home free for Mangaung in December.

His supporters are not the passionate “I will die for you” types he had at Polokwane.

They seemed fatigued by the failures of government and the failures of Zuma himself.

They looked tired of excuses and old terms wrapped in new terms, like “second transition”.

They may not get on Tokyo’s train, or join the covert operation that is the Kgalema campaign.

But do they want this man above all? Zuma will need to ignite the spark in them and become their superstar president again.

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