Durban - Jubilant ANC members hang from the windows of buses and minibus taxis that race along Durban’s Stalwart Simelani and Samora Machel streets towards Kings Park Stadium.
Bedecked in black, green and yellow, they scream “Viva ANC! Viva”. Some chant old struggle songs at the top of their voices while others simply shout “Zuma! Zuma! Msholozi! Msholozi!” as their convoys converge on the ANC’s 101th anniversary celebration.
It’s hot in Durban, stinking hot. Anyone with half a chance would be on the beach for some respite, but not these stalwarts.
Shortly after 11.30am, Zuma arrives in a convoy of 12 black BMW X5s. The 55 000-seater venue erupts.
Zuma and his entourage take a walk to greet the party faithful before he reverts to type.
On stage he pauses for a moment after being formally introduced by ANC national chairwoman Baleka Mbete, before breaking into song.
The famous uMshini wam has been dumped for a new anthem. This one is Inde lendlela a siyihambayo. Wa tsho Mandela kubalandeli bakhe!! Wathi sohlangana nge Freedom Day (This road we are travelling is long, said Mandela to his followers!! But we shall meet on Freedom Day).
When the last chorus dies down, Zuma starts by formally acknowledging his erstwhile rival, the party’s former deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, sitting on the main podium.
His attendance is in stark contrast to ex-president Thabo Mbeki, who managed to avoid ever being on a party stage after Zuma deposed him as ANC president in Polokwane in 2007.
The crowd buys into Zuma’s magnanimity, seeing Motlanthe’s presence as a sign that he has been forgiven for challenging Zuma in Mangaung. They scream with joy and approval each time Zuma mentions his former deputy’s name.
In a speech that lasts just over an hour, Zuma sings their song. He promises to rid the nation of the last vestiges of apartheid; to develop the critical infrastructure to provide water, electricity, sanitation, schools and health care, particularly in 23 districts identified as among the poorest in the land.
He vows to transfer arable land from whites to blacks. His government, he says, will intervene in the economy to create jobs and reduce inequality.
As he speaks, the rain begins to fall. A promising omen in a country often starved of rain. Later, it will storm, but now it is time to say good bye to the ANC’s year of centenary celebrations, the best ANC structures in the country are honoured, the centenary flame is brought on stage for the last time before being stowed away in a safe place, and then the party begins, literally.
The artists take to the stage. Arthur Mafokate, Mafikizolo and Zakes Bantwini have the crowd on their feet with their potent mix of house, kwaito and Afro-pop.
As the sun sets, the faithful start leaving the stadium. Zuma has done his job as the showman of the party. The real work, though, starts now.