Jacob Zuma on Sunday used a final rally before his near-certain victory in Wednesday’s elections to pledge to uphold the independence of South Africa’s judiciary, as he whipped up huge crowds of supporters electrified by the surprise appearance of Nelson Mandela.
The atmosphere at a packed Ellis Park, Johannesburg’s 60,000-seat rugby stadium, reflected the scale of victory the African National Congress expects to secure. Leaders of the party that has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994 say they are confident of repeating the two-thirds majority they won in the last polls five years ago.
Days after the president-in-waiting caused widespread trepidation by suggesting the country’s top court should be more accountable to government, Mr Zuma said: “When we comment on the pace of transformation [from white rule] in the judiciary, it is not because we want to infringe on its independence but seek faster action.”
Such pledges are unlikely to placate those South Africans troubled by the corruption allegations against Mr Zuma that linger despite prosecutors’ recent decision to drop charges against him.
For his delirious fans, who have bought into his pledges to do more to combat stubborn unemployment and poverty, the zenith of a hot afternoon came with a rendition of Bring me my machine gun, the raucous resistance hymn that is Mr Zuma’s anthem.
The performance was only eclipsed by the welcome afforded South Africa’s first black president, who ruled from 1994 to 1999.
Eight months after another rare public appearance at a rally to mark his 90th birthday and 19 years after he walked free from Robben Island following three decades in apartheid prisons, a frail Mr Mandela took a full five minutes to climb the short staircase to the stage, supported by Mr Zuma.
In a pre-recorded message broadcast on huge screens, he told ecstatic crowds to remember the ANC’s “primary task”: “It is to eradicate poverty and ensure a better life for all.”
But even as traditional healers burned herbs to call on Mr Zuma’s ancestors to guide him in leadership, not everyone was ready to celebrate.
Standing at the edge of the Ellis Park turf, Golden Miles Phudu, 48, from Eldorado Park near the vast township of Soweto, wore heavy metal chains around his bare chest and shoulders.
“We are 15 years down the road [from 1994’s first democratic elections]. This country is stinking rich but the majority of our people remain in abject poverty. It is not supposed to be like this.” Only when the country’s wealth was more equitably shared would he remove the chains, Mr Phudu said.
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