At church with JZ

The New Covenant International Church stands in an isolated part of Rustenburg. But at 9am on Sunday morning siren after siren wails outside, marking the successive motorcades of the local mayor, North West Premier Edna Molewa—and ANC president Jacob Zuma.

Church members, mostly in their twenties and thirties and in their Sunday best, hug one another as they file into the vibey, charismatic church, which has been there for three years.

A vehicle offloads Zuma’s staff, including the head of his office, Joe Phaahla, and his assistant, Bathabile Dlamini. They join Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi, ANC provincial chairperson Nono Maloyi and the priest Isaac Mokgope to wait for Zuma.

Five minutes later he arrives with a phalanx of bodyguards, to be welcomed and taken a floor up to a holding room where he is introduced to the priest and elders.

The room is small for the two groups, one from the church, the other from the ANC. “Who’s that guy?” demands one of the bodyguards, pointing. “He’s the church spokesperson,” an elder explains.

This only makes Zuma’s security head more agitated. He pleads with Phaahla: “All these people should go to the church service downstairs and JZ will join them there.”

Zuma stands by, grinning. After about a minute the room is empty except for him. Bodyguards will be the order of the day, whisking him away and limiting access.

Joined by ANC national executive committee members Lumka Yengeni, Nathi Mthethwa, Edna Molewa and Rejoice Mabhudafasi, he strolls into the church to loud cheers from the 700 people inside.

The priest explains that the ANC called him to say: “We want to come to worship with you”—perhaps making the point that he has not gratuitously offered Zuma a platform. As the priest distributes envelopes for R50 donations, intended to buy groceries for the needy, Zuma puts his hand in his back pocket for a generous handout to his bodyguards to donate. He also hands a R100 note to Vavi, whose union salary presumably does not allow him to buy the nice suit he is wearing and keep some change in his pocket.

The choir sings ceaselessly, leading a chorus, in English, of “Jesus loves you”. Zuma’s daughter Duduzile, her black, green and gold earrings and bracelets matching her “ANC is my home” T-shirt, starts video-recording as her father hums and sways.

Now for the sermon. The priest extols Zuma’s work for charity and adds: “God has chosen him as a great leader.”

Zuma takes the stage, exhorting the church to advise government and give constructive criticism.

At noon, after the service, Zuma changes into a black ANC shirt before heading off to the Rustenburg council chambers. Here he meets local ANC leaders, who introduce themselves one by one in the foyer.

Accompanied by billionaire Mamelodi Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe, Vavi and provincial deputy chairperson Molefi Sefularo, he retires to the mayor’s chamber for lunch. South Africa’s most powerful politician, the billionaire who recently graced the cover of Time magazine and the leader of South Africa’s biggest union grouping are at one table. And of all things, they are talking soccer.

Zuma chats animatedly about the game between Bafana Bafana and Norway. “We don’t need Benni McCarthy!” he insists, arguing that the “young boys” who replaced the errant star played far better than he could dream of. He describes how Bafana played a Brazilian style of football, running rings around the Europeans.

Motsepe, whose team comprises many players brought back from overseas and paid outrageous salaries, comments that his team is now scouting for school talent.

Then it’s back to the hustings. Sefularo starts briefing the table about the speaking arrangements for the afternoon rally at Rustenburg’s Olympia Stadium, allocating speaking time to each participant. En route Zuma is still going on about soccer, regaling the group with stories about Jomo Sono’s dribbling wizardry.

At the stadium, where about 30 000 people have gathered, Zuma looks tired and bored as he reads through his speech. But he warms up towards the end, talking off the cuff about how the “new administration” (read my government) “will not tolerate lazy and corrupt people”.

A lackadaisical Umshini wam and then it’s back with Duduzile to the BMW, which leaves clouds of dust in the Platinum City.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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