As the nation hedges its bets on how long he’ll remain at the helm of the ANC, President Jacob Zuma has stepped out of the closed halls of the party’s national policy conference to stroll through the stalls of courting businesses. GREG NICOLSON deciphers his stride.
Zuma must have started the day on the back foot. The perennial thorn in his side, Julius “now reformed” Malema, took a fresh swipe at him in the morning edition of The Star. Unfortunately for Zuma, Malema’s expulsion from the ANC doesn’t stop him from commenting as a South African citizen on his past as a powerbroker (or pawn) within the party.
“My only regret was to campaign for Zuma, and I apologise dearly,” Malema told the Jo’burg based daily. Juju’s comments are a slap in the face for the president just as he battles to defend the “second transition” document, perceived to be a symbol of the president’s ambitions for a second term. Reports indicate the document has been slammed in the ANC policy commissions. It’s been widely criticised for being theoretically unsound, illogical and, well, a useless platform for the Midrand debates.
But do not fear. Zuma donned his ANC centenary cap on Thursday morning for a stroll through the stalls of businesses sponsoring the Progressive Business Forum (PBF). The event is linked to the conference and marketing and sales staff have been manning their lurid tents all week, handing out business cards to anyone who’s foolish enough to walk slowly past.
Photo: The morning star attraction, Jacob Zuma (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)
Zuma smiled, shook hands, received gifts, and was received warmly. It was a rather strange phenomenon to watch. At least a handful of the assembled capitalists must have had issues with Zuma’s leadership but as the president did the rounds, they fawned for him, and the cameras.
The press has been barred from lurking outside the commission halls. Starved of opportunities for quotes and comments, they were marched like a school group by ANC spokesman Keith Khoza to the PBF exhibition. They surrounded the president, cornering him against the business stalls and snapping pictures.
The frenzy was worse than most mosh pits. Zuma’s bodyguards pushed photographers back as they pressed inwards, scared it might be their only time to feed all day.
In his stately manner, the president ignored the commotion he caused. Like his namesake, Jay-Z, our leader of government is well accustomed to the mayhem of celebrity. Zuma might not be Nelson Mandela, but he’s exceptionally charming with the public - albeit a public linked to the ANC and business people who paid for the stalls.
The group swarmed from stall to stall, with Zuma posing for photos in front of each company banner, shaking hands and laughing heartily at frivolities. It had the feel of electioneering – an obligatory handshake, greeting potential party donors.
But as Zuma fronted the media to walk around and smile, the policy conference was discussing thorny issues such as nationalisation, issues the former youth league leader Malema has used as a proxy against the president.
Photo: ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe also toured the stalls (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)
While delegates finished discussing the ANC’s policy discussion document on strategy and tactics, which featured the hot topic of “second transition”, one of Zuma’s rivals in the ANC leadership race, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe started his own tour of the PBF.
As Motlanthe toured the stalls, delegates streamed out of the plenary singing for Zuma’s second term and in support of the second transition. They held their accreditation tags for photographers and waved two fingers in the air.
It’s a strong sign of support for Zuma, who started the day with criticism from Malema but in true Zuma style has managed to put a cheerful face to a nightmate. It’s either that, or a sign of well-organised campaign that doesn't officially exist. And yet details of what is actually transpiring in the plenary trickle through, maybe, once again, Zuma has indeed been able to emerge relatively unhurt. DM
Main photo: Delegates streamed out of the plenary singing for Zuma’s second term and in support of the second transition. (Greg Nicolson/Daily Maverick)