By Rebecca Harrison
Johannesburg - A trio of traditional Zulu songstresses has hit the big time and ignited controversy with a tribute to former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma, who has been charged with rape in a politically divisive case.
Singing group Izingane Zoma have sold 50 000 copies of their album "Msholozi" - Zuma's clan name - as South Africans snap up a CD with lyrics saying the people want Zuma as their next leader, but the government is keeping him from power.
The album also calls for charges against the popular politician to be dropped.
"The sales have been tremendous in a very short time. We expect it to sell at least 100 000 by June because of all the controversy about the trial," said a spokesperson for Gallo Records, which is distributing the album.
Once seen as the successor to President Thabo Mbeki in 2009, Zuma was sacked last year over corruption allegations, sparking a crisis in the ruling African National Congress and protests from his supporters.
He has since been charged with corruption and rape but denies both charges and has accused ANC insiders of waging a shadowy campaign to keep him from power.
His rape trial was due to begin on Monday but was postponed until March 6 after a row over which judge should preside over it.
The distributors did brisk business selling the CD at the discounted price of R60 in front of the Johannesburg high court this week, where 3 000 Zuma supporters gathered on Monday.
But not everyone is impressed with "Msholozi".
South Africa's national broadcaster SABC removed the title track from the playlist of its Zulu-language Ukhozi FM radio station for fear it could be read as "incitement", drawing accusations of anti-Zuma bias from Zuma allies.
But the controversy has also ignited sales and prompted other radio stations to play the track, which would normally be dismissed as too folksy for urban listeners.
Kaya FM station in Johannesburg, which rarely features traditional music, played "Msholozi" after holding a poll in which more than 70 percent of respondents said the song should get airtime, according to programming manager Neil Johnson.
YFM has also played the track and one of its top presenters, DJ Fresh, has even talked about mixing a house version better suited to the urban youth station.
Izingane Zoma, made up of three Zulu women, is one of the biggest names in South Africa's traditional maskandi music scene and is popular in rural areas.
Their marketing manager said the group never expected such a huge response and insisted they had not intended to make a political record.
She said the group had not been contacted by Zuma's office about the album and that the idea came from one of the singers.
"Our song is not political, we just write about what is happening and what people think," said Linda Sabelo at Izingane Zoma Music Promotions.
"We are not controlled when it comes to our music."