Notes to Mangaung: Blessed ancestral showers for Zuma
Tokyo Sexwale used some Madiba magic to charm lawyers, but its effect might have been more eerily haunting than he had intended.
One can never tell with diplomatic and desperate politicians during a non-campaign.
He imitated Madiba’s voice to tell a joke to the lawyers at the Northern Provinces Law Society meeting on Saturday.
It was a joke Madiba always told about a haunted village which the villagers decided to leave.
As they sat on their luggage, a passer-by asked where they’re going, and from among the luggage came the ghostly voice: “We are moving.”
The moral of the story was that South Africa should solve its problems because these will move with us wherever we go.
But the tale had me thinking about another political event where the spirits spoke.
Last Sunday, we chased President Jacob Zuma to Lotana, the AmaMpondomise “kingdom” (there is still a dispute about this one) about 70km northeast of Mthatha on tar and gravel roads.
According to the programme, Zuma would be at the royal great place (which was more like two large white tents erected in the grounds of a small primary school) at 9am.
We got there on time but it was way too early, so the bunch of journos present found shade from the 30 degree Celsius heat on the stoep of a classroom.
Friendly women in traditional clothes fed us a breakfast of freshly-backed local bread, fatty tripe and Oros.
When I later asked for water, a bottle was fished out from among bloodied and gory animal remains like hooves, tails and heads in a trailer refrigerator.
Zuma’s convoy and choppers arrived around 11am. So did the rain clouds. Both were a welcome sight.
Zuma spent almost two hours with clan members, visiting graves of the ancestors at the nearby river and performing cleansing ceremonies, and apparently also eating some freshly-slaughtered meat.
By the time he entered the tent where the formal part of the programme was to happen, a few light drops were falling.
Officials held a soccer umbrella suspended over his head like a showerhead to shelter him as the procession passed the posse of bare-breasted maidens, which formed a guard of honour outside the tent.
By the time Zuma and the dignitaries – the local traditional leaders and some provincial leaders – sat down on the stage, the raindrops beat down on the tent. Small muddy rivers began forming outside on the school grounds and thunder and lightning struck closer than was comfortable.
A strong wind shook the large, white marquee, and twice within the space of 15 minutes, the structure gave right behind where the leaders sat – as if someone among them was targeted.
I could feel fear emanating from the bodies around me. I was petrified that the rest of the structure would collapse and we would either be suffocated or trample each other in the rush to get out.
The bodyguards held up the collapsing drapes above Zuma’s head as the programme went on, but then his staff got instruction to hurry him out of the tent.
The storm almost immediately subsided. He left soon after, not having spoken at all.
Now the politics of the supernatural and of the ancestors is complicated and operates on many levels.
Those villagers who like Zuma and want to see him re-elected at the ANC’s elective congress in Mangaung in just more than a month’s time, said the rain was a blessing in those parts.
Those who oppose him, said the destructive storm was a sign for him to hamba.
There is also the traditional politics. A lawyer for the Jola clan, who is at odds about the kingship with the Dosini clan, which organised Zuma’s visit, said the thunderstorm showed the ancestors didn’t approve of how Zuma was handling the whole affair.
Whatever the story, even to this heathen it was clear that this wasn’t just an ordinary storm.
Now Zuma and rain have been friends for at least as long as I’ve been chasing him on the campaign trail.
Almost exactly five years ago, Zuma was in Eastern Cape rural areas too (around Elliot, if I remember correctly) campaigning in a tent. Except then he was a sacked as deputy president and Tokyo was still his friend.
It rained too, but it was a friendly and persistent rain.
Although cold and unseasonal, the persistent days-long rain at the ANC’s congress in Polokwane in the midsummer of 2007, where Zuma got elected, was also described as a blessing.
It poured down when Zuma was inaugurated president in May 2009, almost ruining the event.
With Zuma’s re-election in Mangung looking increasingly imminent, I, for one, will be packing my umbrella and rain coat to the ANC’s gathering next month – just in case we get showered on again.