‘Electioneering in a decisive region was halted Sunday as heavy rain and wind tore through the rural town where the president was due to speak.’ The line sounds as if it came from the US presidential election, but this was Qumbu in Eastern Cape, a province President Zuma and Deputy President Motlanthe can’t get enough of lately. By GREG NICOLSON.
As Helen Zille and her small team in blue put the pressure back on Zuma’s Nkandla homestead with her doomed house call, the president was capping off a week of politicking in the Eastern Cape. After visiting Oliver Tambo’s birthplace last Sunday and speaking to a delegation of unemployed workers during the week, Zuma was set to attend the amaMpondomise heritage celebration in Qumbu. It’s not the first time he’s dropped in on the proud nation (the Nhlapo Commission wouldn’t recognise it as a kingdom) and the president has attended just as many events this week in Cape Town. But the Eastern Cape has become a key battleground prior to Mangaung.
Last weekend, the ANC’s party planners were bickering over who got to commemorate former ANC leader Oliver Tambo. The Youth League had lined up Motlanthe to speak in the hotly contested OR Tambo region, only to have Zuma’s team organise a rally on the same day in the same area. Talk about raining on the change parade. The Young Lions called it how they saw it: “This swiftly organised rally is nothing but an immature act to sabotage the activities of the ANC Youth League. The reason is simply because the ANC Youth League rally was meant to be addressed by Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe, the people’s choice for president.” For his part, Zuma used the address to chide the Youth League. The gist of it was: Tambo, Mandela and Sisulu weren’t rude; today’s youngsters are and should stop drawing the comparison.
A little late for the party but there nonetheless, Motlanthe came to Bizana on Saturday for the rescheduled lecture. Addressing 1,000 of Ronald Lamola’s (Julius Malema’s) beret brigade, he gave his strongest indication yet that he would accept nomination to run for ANC president. Sure, he was as stone faced as ever, but there were a few indications he has come to terms with the campaign in his name.
“If the members express their will freely, then you can stand before them and say ‘I am your servant, you elected me’,” City Press quoted him saying. He shared a stage with other agents of change, Mathews Phosa, Tokyo Sexwale and OR Tambo region Chair Thandekile Sabisa while Lamola begged him to step into his election suit. If it was the start of a presidency campaign it got the edge on Zuma: Motlanthe shared a meal with the Tambo family and Tselane Tambo addressed his rally.
Zuma was back in the province less than a day later for his Qumbu visit. He would have had the opportunity to continue to woo traditional leaders by rejecting “the white man’s way”, although his comments were likely to be more nuanced. Alas, the best campaigns get interrupted; just ask the US candidates who had to suspend their squabbling while Hurricane Sandy tore through the Northeast. Zuma left Qumbu without addressing the crowd as a storm almost blew away the tent erected for the event.
The weather may have won the day, but Eastern Cape will remain hotly contested up until the Mangaung conference. The Provincial Executive Committee announced its support of the status quo – Zuma for president, Motlanthe his deputy and Gwede Mantashe as secretary general – but both factions have claimed a large majority of branch support at one point or another. Despite a decline of about 40,000 members, the province is still the ANC’s biggest after KwaZulu-Natal, a Zuma stronghold. If he can also pinch the undivided Eastern Cape, Zuma would win Mangaung. But critical regions – OR Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Cacadu and Buffalo City – have recently elected leaders opposing a second term for the president. Ongoing scandals such as Nkandla, the mining strikes and the Zuma spy tapes could turn into votes for Kgalema come Mangaung.
But the Eastern Cape isn’t your conventional lobby-vote-win the day scenario. Many of this year’s regional congresses have been marred by ugly disputes, at times bordering on the criminal, at times a satire of the pitfalls of power. ANC Eastern Cape spokesman Mlibo Qoboshiyane told Mail & Guardian that of the 60% of branches that have submitted their leadership nominations, 80% want Zuma. A party NEC member meanwhile told Sunday Independent that Zuma is fretting over Motlanthe’s support in the province and pretending to have more support than he actually does through regular visits.
The effect of this year’s scandals – in particular the shooting of the Marikana mineworkers, many of whom hailed from Eastern Cape – will remain unknown until December. Until then, the province will remain a key destination for campaign visits. Perhaps Zuma or Motlanthe might even make suggestions to address the poverty in the province, which features some of the country’s worst indicators. Perish the thought, though. As we all know, a Mangaung win is far more important. DM
Photo of President Zuma by Greg Marinovich