Loss of face: Is Zuma's image a logo no-go?

Missing in action: ANC supporters at the party’s 104th anniversary rally last weekend predominantly sported T-shirts without ­President Jacob Zuma’s image on them. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Missing in action: ANC supporters at the party’s 104th anniversary rally last weekend predominantly sported T-shirts without ­President Jacob Zuma’s image on them. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

ANC fashions can be fickle: one year a certain look is all the rage, but then a few years down the line everybody shuns it.

Last weekend, thousands of supporters who converged on the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg sported new yellow T-shirts with only the ANC logo on them, sparking rumours that President Jacob Zuma might not be that close to people’s hearts anymore.

In previous years, it was mainly T-shirts with Zuma’s visage that were distributed at ANC events such as the January 8 celebrations, although Madiba’s face also made an appearance, especially after his death in December 2013.

Zuma’s image has traditionally topped the ANC’s elections campaign since he became party president in 2007, except during the 2014 general elections in Gauteng, when comrades feared having his face on T-shirts and posters might alienate rather than attract voters.

A number of Gauteng-based party loyalists this week said they would not wear a T-shirt with Zuma’s face on it. A Gauteng-based ANC lobbyist said the ANC treasurer general, Zweli Mkhize, was responsible for commissioning the T-shirts and for choosing the logo rather than Zuma’s face. This was because of next year’s leadership battle, in which Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa could be battling it out with the African Union Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, perceived to be Zuma’s first choice.

“Zweli does not support Number One [Zuma] anymore and would rather fall in with Cyril,” he said.

A KwaZulu-Natal-based organiser said, because of divisions in the province, “comrades might not wear a T-shirt with Zuma’s face”. It could also stop them from campaigning for the local government elections later this year. He said that, by printing T-shirts with ANC logos, Mkhize “will be seen as a uniting leader”.

About 100 000 T-shirts with the logos were printed, but a smaller number of T-shirts with Zuma’s face could also be seen at the Rustenburg event. The Gauteng-based lobbyist claimed this was old stock.

Mkhize said there was nothing out of the ordinary about the T-shirt design, which was approved by all the ANC members of the organising committee. He added Zuma would still be the face of the party’s elections campaign.

During the 2006 local government elections, a year before the ANC’s elective conference at which then-president Thabo Mbeki was replaced by Zuma, the party ordered T-shirts without Mbeki’s face because of the leadership battles at the time.

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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