By Chris Makhaye

The small Ntolwane district in Nkandla virtually came to a standstill as thousands of cars, taxis and buses descended on it to celebrate President Jacob Zuma's election. The swanky sedans and SUVs lost their gleam from the red dust as the BEE types thronged the place.

By midday the small makeshift football ground opposite Mnyakanya High School resembled a remote airport, with no less than four aircraft waiting for dignitaries who had come to the event.

The elite also showed their presence. Irvin Khoza and KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Transport Bheki Cele were first to arrive in style, flying in in a six-seater helicopter, with Lamontville Golden Arrows boss Manto Madlala in tow.

Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe flew in with his wife, Bridgette. The aircraft of his tycoon brother-in-law and mining magnate Patrice Motsepe landed not far from Ntolwane Primary, where the function was held and where Zuma voted during the April 22 elections. This is within walking distance of Zuma's house.

Other BEE types arrived in their flashy machines. Vivian Reddy arrived with a large entourage. Controversial Durban tycoon Mabheleni Ntuli was with a group of friends. Zuma's Durban-based attorney Michael Hulley was also present.

Clearly it was an occasion to realign with new people at the helm. Eight-year-old praise-singer Philani Buthelezi kept the crowd in stitches as he brought in a few jokes with his poems about Zuma.

Local inkosi Bheki Zuma said the celebration had been long in planning. Considering the 20 000-plus people who filled the five large marquees, it was an event to be at for the locals.

Nineteen cows were slaughtered for the occasion. But after the SPCA complained about cruelty the animals were shot instead of being put to the knife in the early hours of yesterday morning.

The crowd came alive when Zuma, clad in a Mandela-type shirt and black pants, arrived just before midday.

A while later his three first ladies, Nompumelelo Ntuli, Sizakele Khumalo and Thobeka Mabhija, arrived together in the main marquee to wild applause.

Zuma did not dwell much on politics during his address as he good-humouredly thanked the rural people who voted for him during the elections and who footed the bill for yesterday's celebration in his honour.

"I will never forget my origins. Even as president I will never change. I will still listen to you and do whatever you tell me to do. You people have shown me compassion even during the most difficult times of my life. Some of you were with me during court appearances in Joburg, Durban and Pietermaritzburg," he said.

He called on all South Africans to unite behind common goals.

The celebrations would never have been complete without Zuma's rendition of his signature Umshini Wami.