Praise songs for Thabo Mbeki

Makhosini Nkosi and Wally Mbhele

The ruling African National Congress celebrated its landslide victory in the country’s second democratic elections this week in grand style. The party forked out more than R180 000 to set up an election nerve centre and a celebration at Gallagher Estate in Midrand near Johannesburg.

Even a bomb scare that threatened to disrupt the celebrations did not dampen the spirit of hundreds of ANC members who converged on Midrand on Thursday. Champagne flowed amid thunderous applause and dancing from throngs who had descended to join an exuberant and upbeat ANC president Thabo Mbeki in toasting his party’s decisive victory.

More than 1 000 members of Parliament, Cabinet ministers, businesspeople, celebrities and party members crowded the hall decorated with the green, black and gold ANC colours.

Mbeki’s victory speech was delayed for more than an hour after the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC)failed to declare the ANC the victors within the expected time.

However, singing and dancing went ahead amid the glare of the giant 30m TV screen which was continuously delivering good news to the ANC’s well-wishers. The delay prevented ANC Women’s League president Winnie Madikizela-Mandela from upstaging her party leader with a late arrival.

When she arrived half-an-hour after the scheduled start of Mbeki’s speech, she was mobbed by the large contingent of local and foreign journalists as Congress of South African Trade Unions general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi ushered her into the hall.

Mbeki arrived accompanied by almost all the present members of the Cabinet. They included Minister of Health Nkosazana Zuma, Minister of Public Works Jeff Radebe, retiring Minister of Defence Joe Modise, Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism Pallo Jordan and Minister of Trade and Industry Alec Erwin.

In his speech, Mbeki made it clear that economic growth, the fight against crime, and national reconciliation, as well as the “African renaissance”, topped his agenda.

He said the overwhelming ANC victory was “a renewed mandate for the country to move forward faster towards the implementation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme”.

Ministers present got a taste of things to come when Mbeki declared before the end of the celebrations that they “have now arrived at the moment where we have to go back to work”.

The speech was punctuated with humility and dignity as Mbeki the statesman appeared concerned about the plight of voters who put him into power. “Without hesitation, the people of South Africa have renewed the ANC mandate to govern. The poorest of the poor have said they trust the ANC to help them out of their misery.

“People have directed us to move forward and faster with the Reconstruction and Development Programme … to achieve social transformation sooner rather than later … to radically improve their safety and security.”

Mbeki pledged he would remain loyal to these directives, would ensure that the voters’ will is done and said he was greatly humbled by the trust, loyalty and love they showed the ANC.

The victory celebration in Midrand came after a “night vigil” by ANC staff who had gathered patiently around the giant TV screens waiting for the first indications of how the South African public had responded to the Mbeki’s ANC campaign. By Wednesday night, scores of obviously elated ANC supporters were already celebrating the party’s looming victory until the early hours of Thursday morning. Most of them had only had a couple of hours’ sleep.

It became obvious during the celebration that the ANC leadership has allowed Mbeki to bask in the ANC’s glory, away from the shadow of his predecessor, President Nelson Mandela. The only reminder of Mandela’s existence was the larger-than-life picture of the two leaders holding hands at one ANC rally. Songs in praise of Mandela have since been adapted for the new president.

Gauteng MEC for Health Mondli Ngungubele, who was close to tears with excitement, boasted that the party was no longer destined for a two-thirds majority but what he called a “four-thirds majority”.

Mbeki paid tribute to the opposition parties which took part in the elections. He congratulated “those which made successes”, much to the laughter of his supporters.

He also paid tribute to the IEC and the civil servants who volunteered their services towards the election process.

The ANCis expected to host countrywide celebrations.

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