Johannesburg – It was the queen of hearts who proved to be the ultimate electioneering card for a poker-faced ANC when Winnie Madikizela-Mandela arrived in grand style at the party's final rally in Johannesburg on Sunday before next week's local government elections.
The 62 000 capacity crowd at the ruling party’s rally, as well as the overflow audience at the nearby Johannesburg Athletics Stadium, must have thought they had already seen it all when elections organiser, Nomvula Mokonyane, made her entrance on the back of a motorbike, resplendent in a branded leather jacket and flying the ANC flag.
She was followed shortly by the party’s top six, including President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, breaking out into choreographed dabbing moves.
But it was the surprise appearance of a near octogenerian dressed in a fetching beaded headscarf, velvet jacket emblazoned with the ANC logo and travelling via golf cart on to the pitch of the Emirates Park Stadium to clinch the greatest coup of the campaign season.
ANCWL bowed down to Zuma
The style of her arrival was reminiscent of the last major political appearance made by her former husband, President Nelson Mandela. In 2009, at an ANC Siyanqoba rally ahead of that year’s national elections, the extremely frail stalwart was wheeled onto the same pitch, and also in a golf cart.
On Sunday, having induced complete hysteria and screaming with her arrival, Madikizela-Mandela was then helped on to the stage. She hugged and kissed on the lips each of the ANC’s top leaders before taking a seat between Zuma and Ramaphosa.
Shortly thereafter Zuma – who was earlier greeted with a guard of honour formed by ANC Women’s League members who bowed down to him as he did a walkabout of the stadium – took to the stage with notes for a prepared speech.
During his speech, hundreds of people located in the shaded area where a chilly breeze swept through the stadium, were seen vacating their seats.
Zuma used his talking time to make it clear that as far as he was concerned, Mandela was definitely not a fan of the Democratic Alliance: “Madiba warned our people and our country about the DA which runs Cape Town," he said.
Do it for Madiba
He then quoted Mandela’s declaration from 2000 that the DA was a “white party” with “a few black stooges”.
In securing the appearance of Mandela’s first wife – who has been out of the public eye, apparently due to ill health – the ruling party performed the ultimate ‘mic drop’ over the explosive debate on the appropriation of Mandela’s legacy by various political parties.
Most recently, at the DA’s final rally in Dobsonville in Saturday, leader Mmusi Maimane held true to the line that the DA's ideals were more true to Mandela’s vision for South Africa than the ANC's.
“The ANC has turned its back on everything Nelson Mandela fought for,” Maimane said at the time in a speech he titled, 'Do it for Madiba'.
On Sunday, the Economic Freedom Fighters appeared unfazed by Madikizela-Mandela's endorsement of the ANC.
“The ANC is dead, long dead and it is buried with Nelson Mandela in Qunu. If you want the ANC, you must go to Qunu,” leader Julius Malema – who spoke off the cuff with fiery rhetoric – told his crowd of supporters at the Peter Mokaba stadium in Polokwane, Limpopo.
A show of force
Malema also dismissed media reports that his party's attempts to fill the 45 500-seat stadium had been less successful than the ANC’s.
“Don’t be blind. This is a show of force,” said the commander in chief of the breakaway party, which was formed three years ago. “This was a success for a three-year-old; just give us five years and you will see a miracle.”
On Saturday, speaking at a business gala dinner in Polokwane, Malema also stressed his connection to Mandela, telling a story of how, when he still served in the ANC Youth League structures, Mandela had told him to get fit.
“Madiba said to me, ‘if you're serious about leading our youth, you must lose weight. You cannot lead people if you can't take care of yourself'.’Mandela didn't doubt my leadership skills. He believed in me. He was just concerned about my health,” he said.
Malema has been known to woo Madikizela-Mandela in the past. In April this year, he told a resident of Ebony Park that she had “said we [the EFF] must continue on the path we are on and that she is proud of us”.
Special voting in the local government elections begins on Monday while the rest of the nation will take to the polls on Wednesday.