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What's in a song? Buoyant Zuma loyalists demand to know: 'Wenzeni uZuma?'

ANC KwaZulu-Natal Elective Conference is currently underway in Durban.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal Elective Conference is currently underway in Durban.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu.

Former president Jacob Zuma's ghosts came crawling out of the shadows with delegates attending the ninth provincial elective conference in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, demanding through song to know: “Wenzeni uZuma?” (what has Zuma done?).

When the conference got under way about six hours later than scheduled at the Olive Convention Centre, more than 1,600 delegates expressed their views in songs, including their dissatisfaction over Zuma’s incarceration.

After special messages from the provincial alliance partners, SACP and Cosatu, provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli asked delegates to usher acting secretary-general Paul Mashatile to the podium with a “revolutionary song”.

While some delegates started singing a song celebrating the life of Solomon Mahlangu, others burst into song singing: “Awusitshele wenzeni uZuma? Wena ulawulwa ipropaganda (Tell us what Zuma has done? You are governed by propaganda) ”

Mashatile tried to take control of the situation by shouting, “amandla!” but this did not stop the delegates from continuing.

While this was happening, Zikalala and Ntuli were seen talking to each other but it was not immediately clear what they were speaking about.

The delegates continued to sing and clapped loudly but the NEC members in attendance did not sing or clap along.

Later, before addressing the delegates, provincial chair Sihle Zikalala attempted to unite the gathering by singing: “Oliver Tambo, bamb’sandla sami. Nasebunzimeni bamb’sandla sami. Sibambe ungasiyekeli, bamb’sandla sami.”

This is a song pleading with their late revolutionary leader Oliver Tambo to hold their hands as they traverse difficult terrain.

Responding to the song during a press briefing later, Zikalala said this has been a song that the province has been singing for a long time.

“In the context of today, I think firstly, there is no one who was on stage who is in charge of the propaganda machinery. So it was not directed to anyone, but we cannot also hide the fact that there is pain in the membership of the ANC and generally in the society about how the former president was treated.”

Zikalala was referring to Zuma’s arrest in July 2021 for contempt of court.

“If you can go to a rural area to do door-to-door campaign, an elderly woman in the deep rural areas will say to you, ‘I don’t really care what you say but why would you arrest an 80 year-old, an elderly man?' Others will say, 'Why did you not allow him to retire?'”

Mashatile echoed Zikalala’s sentiments saying delegates must be allowed to express themselves.

“We expect our members to receive our leaders with discipline and I know that sometimes when they sing you think that it is not receiving someone warmly. Let delegates sing.”

He also said he did not believe the “Wenzeni uZuma song” was directed at anyone specifically.

“They want you as the leadership to note their concerns and ... the song ‘Wenzeni uZuma?’ has a history and therefore when delegates see leadership, it is an opportunity for them to say, ‘Leadership, take note of our pain and our complaints.'” 

Mashatile confirmed that Ramaphosa will be attending the conference on Sunday and had not received any information that suggested otherwise.

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