National

A smile and a wave from the campaigning ANC chief

Phillip De Wet

By the time Jacob Zuma arrives to campaign in person, his face is already staring back at him from all over the place.

The image of Jacob Zuma, the sole face of the ANC's election campaign, is emblazoned on the hot pants of party supporters during an election rally in Mpumalanga. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

There are the election posters and plenty of time to view them as one crawls through the maze of potholes. While the Democratic Alliance (the only other party that went for saturation postering) affixed two or three different posters, to show Helen Zille and a multiracial group, the ANC has only Zuma representing it.

There are the ANC election T-shirts, each with a smiling Zuma writ large over the front. In the case of the 11 young people deployed as a guard of honour of sorts, the shirts are still as crisp as the ANC flags unsheathed from their plastic wrapping only that morning, and Zuma's face glows with healthy vigour. The further back into the crowd of a hundred or so you move, the more faded the shirts become.

But the face remains unmistakable.

The picture on the round "I am voting ANC 2014 elections" stickers features no smile from Zuma; the pose is more classic nobility than modern approachability. That makes it all the more incongruous when they are peeled from the big roll and affixed, among many other places, on each of the buttocks of four girls in skimpy hot pants, for a total of eight attention-grabbing portraits that – surely unintentionally – makes for impolitic reminders of the party president's sexual history.

It is just as well that Zuma's countenance is everywhere, because that is as close as most of the residents of Tonga village, nestled between Swaziland and Mozambique in a determinedly ANC territory in Mpumalanga, came to seeing the president this week.

Focusing a national campaign on one individual makes for a hectic schedule, and the result is the merest brush of celebrity for the faithful who turned out: a 15-minute visit with one household, 12 minutes spent with another and a three-second wave for those who secured themselves a spot across the fence in a neighbouring yard.

Then it is off for a chaotic walk-through of the local taxi rank, where all the pushing and shoving in the world can still only get a small number within shouting distance, and an equally rushed tour of the nearby mall, where shop managers take one look at the approaching crowd and promptly bring down the security gates.

One for the ANC
With the door-to-door campaigning box officially checked, the Zuma convoy of seven sleek black vehicles leaves Tonga in the dust, and a local woman grumbling that she'd have been better off joining the thousands of people long gathered at the Driekoppies sports grounds for the afternoon's "mini-rally". Will she be voting ANC? "Of course."

Those who did choose the stadium get the better part of the bargain. They have to squint at the faraway speck on the stage or puzzle at the pixelated images on the screens, but towards the middle of his 40-minute speech he departs from ­yawn-inducing history lessons and praise of traditional leaders – to mock opposition parties.

Other parties, Zuma tells the crowd in isiZulu, seem to have no policy. Instead, they just keep shouting about corruption and Nkandla. "They talk about Nkandla! Nkandla!" he yelps in a comical high-pitched voice. Then he ­illustrates it with a little jig that perfectly captures what Zille would look like brandishing a document while somebody set fire to her toes.

"They talk and every time it is 'Nkandla, Nkandla, Nkandla'!"

Then he laughs, and the crowd laughs too (whether it is at the unnamed opposition parties and their obsession with Nkandla, or at the little dance, is not clear). It is nice to see the president perform for them, they say, and yes, those other political parties sure are silly.

After the closing salvo of Zuma's personal anthem Umshini Wami, there is no doubt: they'll be voting for Jacob Zuma, say young and old, men and women. Oh, and also for the ANC.


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