Happy birthday, Mr President
“You’ve got to give the man what he wants,” an organising staff member said, when asked why the invitation to President Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday party on Wednesday did not come with a note for attendees to brush up on their isiZulu.
The Zulu theme was palpable and included a line-up of traditional Zulu-clad maskandi artists. Even DJ Siyanda was flown in from KwaZulu-Natal to join the event in Kliptown in Soweto.
Zuma occasionally joined the artists on stage and dropped his own Zulu dance moves, notably when maskandi artist Mroza performed Van Damme, SABC’s designated Summer Song of the Year 2016, which most people heard for the first time only when it was announced as the winner.
An ANC stalwart I met earlier this week would have been concerned seeing these images as he told me that many in the ANC were “upset” that every time Zuma had to answer difficult questions over his conduct, his reaction was to “run” to his home turf in KwaZulu-Natal and rally his supporters behind him.
Opposition parties have also decried the notion that KwaZuluNatal is a “no-go area” for those unhappy with Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle and the subsequent credit downgrades of the country to junk status by two international ratings agencies.
Insiders said Zuma did not have as firm a grip on KwaZulu-Natal as previously because of factional divisions that had sprung up since the ANC’s provincial conference in November 2015. But on Wednesday, the ANC brought KwaZulu-Natal to the doorstep of Gauteng in DA-run Ward 17 to celebrate Zuma’s birthday.
Not only did Zuma get what he wanted, as per the organiser’s assertion, he was also told what he wanted to hear.
Speakers told the crowd that because he was born in April, he was in the same league as ANC luminaries OR Tambo, Chris Hani and Solomon Mahlangu because the party commemorates their passing in April.
Even Sdumo Dlamini, the president of labour federation Cosatu, which wants Zuma to leave office, pledged loyalty. “As you are my leader, we continue to tackle those difficult issues and I need you to be strong all the time,” he told Zuma.
When Zuma took to the stage at 5:30pm, it seemed to hit him that he was celebrating without some of his comrades on the ANC’s national executive committee and most of the top six leaders, namely Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, secretarygeneral Gwede Mantashe, chairperson Baleka Mbete and treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Only deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte was present. Zuma said stones were more trustworthy than some of his comrades, whom he did not mention by name.
Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize had initially spoken out against the Cabinet reshuffle, but later retracted, saying it was “a mistake that should never happen again”.
But the crowd had already been whipped up into a frenzy against racists and white monopoly capital, and its so-called lackeys in the ANC – narrowly identified by their support for calls that Zuma should step down. Zuma told everyone that he was among the best of the best. “I have seen those who came to the ANC being taught politics, but they are useless,” he said in a speech delivered in isiZulu.
There was an air of invincibility about him. He has earned it. After all, Zuma’s presidential terms in the ANC and government have been a jol: He has always got, and heard, what he wanted.
CUTTING THE CAKE President Jacob Zuma celebrated his 75th birthday in Kliptown on Wednesday, flanked by his allies and cheered on by his supporters