On the eve of former president Jacob Zuma’s day in court, his supporters gathered in central Durban to show their ongoing appreciation of a man who they feel is being treated unjustly by the media, society, the ANC, and the courts. En masse, they defied orders from the top of the ANC not to wear party regalia in defence of Zuma – saying that they refused to be controlled in this manner. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Organisers of a Thursday night vigil in Durban, to show support for Jacob Zuma ahead of his Friday court date, had promised an audience of thousands.
By 21:00 they had succeeded in drawing a few hundred – but those who braved the darkness and the threat of rain did so in the spirit of true believers. They sang, danced, and roared appreciation at the mention of Zuma’s name.
And the majority of them did so in forbidden clothing.
Photo: Jacob Zuma supporters gather at Albert Park in Durban for a night vigil on the eve of the former president’s appearance at the Durban High Court, 5 April 2018. (Photo by Leila Dougan)
The ANC, said Secretary-General Ace Magashule at the end of March, does not want to be associated with the criminal trial of Jacob Zuma. For this reason, he announced, the party’s NEC had resolved that ANC “paraphernalia” should not be worn if members wished to express solidarity with Zuma at events around the trial.
Police Minister Bheki Cele reiterated this point at an ANC rally last weekend. While Zuma supporters were allowed to go to court, he said, “they must never dress in ANC colours”.
It wasn’t the case that the Zuma supporters toyi-toying in central Durban on Thursday had failed to receive this memo. Those spoken to by Daily Maverick were fully aware of the directive, but had opted to ignore it.
“It’s our T-shirts!” said Hlanganani Dlomo, an unemployed former Durban University of Technology (DUT) student who had organised what was termed a “Razzmatazz” to drum up support ahead of the night vigil. “We will wear them!”
Photo: Students gather outside the Steve Biko campus of Durban University of Technology prior to marching to Albert Park for a night vigil on the eve of the former president’s appearance at the Durban High Court, 5 April 2018. (Photo by Leila Dougan)
Mandle Nkosi Khumbuza, one of the first arrivals to the night vigil, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I bought this [ANC-branded] cap with my own money,” he said. “It’s my own property.”
On display were not just the traditional yellow ANC T-shirts, but also the T-shirts of individual ANC structures – including the ANC Youth League, whose leadership had previously committed to abide by the NEC’s decision.
Karl Niehaus, of the military veterans’ association, wore an MKMVA cap and T-shirt.
“He can’t control us,” ranted Zane Mlaba in reference to Minister Bheki Cele’s orders.
A spirit of defiance extended beyond the clothing choices.
“[Zuma] had been treated unfairly by the ANC, by his own organisation,” said Khumbuza.
“I’m not saying he might not have [valid] charges [against him]. But the whole crew is worse! If he is charged, they must also be charged, including the current President.”
“If Zuma is a sinner, we are all sinners,” he concluded.
That use of religious language was not isolated. The night vigil – held at Durban’s Albert Park, nicknamed “Whoonga Park” by locals in reference to its nocturnal drug scene – had the air of a spiritual gathering at points, emphasised by the leading presence of charismatic churchmen.
One of the vigil’s organisers was Bishop Vusi Dube of the National Interfaith Council of South Africa.
Photo: National Interfaith of South Africa’s Bishop Vusi Dube at Albert Park in Durban during the night vigil on the eve of the former president’s appearance at the Durban High Court, 5 April 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan.
“We cannot allow a person to be crucified on allegations,” Dube told Daily Maverick.
When asked why Zuma appeared to enjoy an unusual degree of support from local churches, Dube replied:
“We have supported other leaders. He’s not the first one.”
Dube said that he believed it was necessary for people to mobilise in their numbers around the court case for the sake of “transparency”: to send a message to the courts and the ANC that the matter was being paid close attention.
Photo: National Interfaith of South Africa’s Bishop Vusi Dube (left) checks his phone on stage at Albert Park in Durban for a night vigil on the eve of the former president’s appearance at the Durban High Court, 5 April 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan
Zuma supporter Zane Mlaba made a similar argument.
“By coming here we are sending a message to the Department of Justice,” he said – that watchful eyes are on the case, alert to any hint of injustice.
Among the supporters a prevailing complaint was that the former president had already been subjected to a “trial by media” and found guilty.
Mlaba insisted that his presence at the night vigil was motivated by principle, and said he was angered by the perception that the people of KwaZulu-Natal were rallying around Zuma out of tribalism.
“Even if it was Ramaphosa [in court] we would be here,” he said. “It’s not tribalist.”
There was widespread pessimism that Zuma would receive a fair trial. Black First Land First (BLF) provincial spokesperson Thobani Zikalala told Daily Maverick that the organisation believed the former president was being targeted due to his political positions on land and economic transformation. Why otherwise, he asked, would a case dating back more than a decade be resuscitated now?
“Radical economic transformation as a project is in court,” Zikalala claimed.
“[Zuma] is the only president who has spoken the language of the people. He is being victimised by the state.”
By 21:00, the night vigil’s formal programme was in full swing. An audience of around 300 largely young people toyi-toyi’d in front of a stage set up to accommodate speakers, ranging from an imam to BLF leader Andile Mngxitama.
One supporter bounded on stage carrying a prop: a toy machine gun, in reference to Zuma’s trademark. A burning sprig of imphepho – the indigenous herb used in ritual worship – was held aloft at the front of the crowd.
For these supporters, the night was young. Buses would be arriving in stages from across the province, promised Bishop Dube.
When Daily Maverick asked who was funding the buses, Dube responded that they were indeed “sponsored”, but declined to give further details.
In the morning, Dube said, a march would lead the faithful to the Durban High Court. There, the “mother of all prayers” would take place ahead of Zuma’s arrival in Court A at 09:30.
If Zuma is found guilty?
“We will accept it,” nodded Dube.
As Daily Maverick was leaving the park, we bumped into one Edward Zuma, son of Msholozi, sporting an ANC cap and T-shirt.
Photo: Edward Zuma speaks to journalists at the pro-Zuma night vigil on the eve of his father’s appearance at the Durban High Court, 5 April 2018. (Photo by Leila Dougan)
Asked if he was satisfied with the turnout in honour of his father, Zuma – who had just arrived – surveyed the scene.
“My worry is that this place is too small,” he said, smiling. DM