Happy birthday, Mr Pres­i­dent

CityPress - - Front Page - SETUMO STONE setumo.stone@city­press.co.za

“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.

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

CUT­TING THE CAKE Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma cel­e­brated his 75th birthday in Klip­town on Wednes­day, flanked by his al­lies and cheered on by his sup­port­ers

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