It’s all about you, isn’t it, Mr President?
The stage might well have been in KwaZulu-Natal. The musicians performing in Kliptown, Soweto, for President Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday bash were all from KwaZulu-Natal. The president delivered his entire speech in deep isiZulu. ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini followed suit. As did ANC Youth League general-secretary Njabulo Nzuzo. Nothing surprising there. Zuma generally takes pride in his rural roots and often uses his background to claim that he is being undermined precisely because of that.
However, a common Zulu cultural practice was ignored as the desperate president sought to show his softer side after all the criticism he has been subjected to.
The popularly adored child Ontlametse Phalatse, who suffered from premature ageing disorder progeria, died on Tuesday.
Ontlametse had met Zuma last month as part of her bucket list. After meeting her, Zuma committed to building her and her mother a house and buying them a car.
Zuma had intended to announce these achievements on his birthday, assuming of course that Ontlametse would still be alive.
But despite her death, Zuma proceeded anyway. Ontlametse’s grieving mother, Bellone, was made to leave her home during her period of mourning to sit through a whole afternoon of political speeches so that Zuma the Benevolent could parade her on stage and give her the keys to the new car.
It was blatantly disrespectful of Zuma to push for the woman to break her mourning period in order to attend his birthday bash.
It was particularly shameful for the president – who has been under immense pressure to resign – to use the sad story of Ontlametse to try to show his caring side.