Birthday cheers and jeers for Zuma in show of a divided nation

The cracks in the tripartite alliance have been further laid bare by leaders from the ANC, South African Communist Party (SACP) and union federation Cosatu being largely absent from President Jacob Zuma’s birthday celebrations.

The president’s landmark 75th birthday was celebrated in distinctly different ways in Kliptown and Pretoria, with some wishing him good health and others vehemently calling for the end of his presidency.

At Kliptown’s Walter Sisulu Square, the site where the Freedom Charter was proclaimed, nearly 10 000 people came from as far as Mpumalanga to show their support for uBaba, whom many lauded for furthering their prosperity.

Mpho Mamabolo (63), from Mabopane township on Tshwane’s outskirts, woke up at the crack of dawn to await a bus, organised by the local ANC Women’s League branch, to Johannesburg. Mamabolo has been a member of the women’s league for more than two decades and said her love for Zuma has not waned in recent years.

“We want to say we love him, happy birthday Baba, may God bless him to be healthy and remain strong because he is a strong man,” Mamabolo said.

Eighty kilometres away at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, parts of a 35 000-strong largely Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) crowd sang “Happy birthday Zuma” as they crowded around a burning coffin with “Zuma” written on it.

“He must just resign. No cake, no nothing. They must give him a coffin to bury himself. Birthday present — that’s it,” said Nthabiseng Mudau (30).

Zuma received rapturous applause from the Kliptown crowd.

The ANC’s secretary general Gwede Mantashe, treasurer Zweli Mkhize and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa were conspicuously absent from the celebrations. No explanation was offered for the absence of three of the party’s top six leaders.

Missing too from Zuma’s birthday celebration were tripartite alliance leaders from the SACP and Cosatu — although the federation’s president, S’dumo Dlamini, made it.

But some senior ANC leaders did attend the birthday bash. Jessie Duarte, deputy secretary general of the ANC, and Nomvula Mokonyane, head of campaigning, led the proceedings. Others who joined Zuma on stage included ANC military veterans association chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe and its treasurer Des van Rooyen, ANC Youth League secretary Njabulo Nzuza and women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini.

Thabang Mogale, who is 23, said he was instructed by his youth league branch chairperson to catch a bus from Mpumalanga to attend Zuma’s birthday party. He was deployed to celebrate “but also to demonstrate that the president has support,” he told the Mail & Guardian.

“Today we will defeat the idea that the president is not supported by the society,” Mogale added. Asked why the president needed to be defended, Mogale replied: “He is our president. That’s the only reason.”

The M&G spoke to more than two dozen people at the birthday celebrations, who said the fact that Zuma remained president of the ANC was a good enough reason to defend him.

On Wednesday, the Union Buildings lawns in Pretoria saw opposition parties, including the EFF, the Democratic Alliance, the United Democratic Movement, Congress of the People and the Inkatha Freedom Party — all of whom joined forces in an effort to have Zuma unseated. It was declared a national day of action.

“Ours is the interest of South Africa and not petty politics. When the state of South Africa is threatened we put aside our differences. When we are united we will never be defeated by an inferior president,” said EFF leader Julius Malema.

The gathering at the Union Buildings has been declared the start of a series of organised actions by political parties and civil society organisations — with the next march scheduled for Tuesday April 18, when Parliament is scheduled to vote on a motion of no confidence.

Despite heavy rains that threatened to affect the turnout of the march, thousands of demonstrators gathered at Church Square in Pretoria’s city centre and clogged the streets in their march to the seat of government.

Malema encouraged people in Cape Town to flock to Parliament en masse in support of the vote of no confidence against Zuma.

In Kliptown, before the president took the stage, not all present had come to defend Zuma.

“He’s just celebrating his birthday. Defending him is not what I came for, I came here to celebrate because I think his days are numbered,” said Thami Dupe, a member of the youth league’s Alexandra branch.

“Everyone has a birthday and because he’s the president I thought I need to come celebrate with him. It’s more like a farewell party for him,” Dupe added.

Mbalula gives up on Hawks boss

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has withdrawn his appeal against the judgment that set aside the appointment of Berning Ntlemeza as head of the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigations (Hawks).

Mbalula’s office said in a statement that the appeal was withdrawn in the Supreme Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

“The minister of police will on Thursday meet the top management of the Hawks and inform them of his decision,” police spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said.

Shortly after being appointed minister of police in a controversial Cabinet reshuffle by President Jacob Zuma, Mbalula signalled his intention to accept the high court ruling.

“I think in the police we are not running short of men and women; nobody is irreplaceable here. Anybody can be replaced in the police. I’m not prepared to waste time about General Ntlemeza until Christmas,” Mbalula said last week.

Ntlemeza was appointed by former police minister Nathi Nhleko as the Hawks acting head in December 2014 and then permanently in September 2015.

Civic organisations Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation approached the courts last year to have the appointment declared invalid, arguing that the position required integrity and honesty, and Ntlemeza had been found wanting.

Their case was partially based on a stinging rebuke in March 2015 by high court Judge Elias Matojane, who said in a judgment that Ntlemeza was dishonest, lacking in integrity and dishonourable.

“In my view, the conduct of the third respondent [Ntlemeza] shows that he is biased and dishonest. To further show that the third respondent is dishonest and lacks integrity and honour, he made false statements under oath.”

After their initial urgent bid failed, the organisations once again approached the high court in Pretoria at the end of last year and won their case.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

Dineo Bendile
Dineo Bendile works from Johannesburg. Political reporter. BLACK. Dineo Bendile has over 2712 followers on Twitter.
Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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