Rich and poor rub shoulders to celebrate South African president Zuma's election

South Africa’s newly elected president celebrated In rich, colourful tradition.

Jacob Zuma exits ceremony with his first wife saying two of his other wives exited by a side door

By Xolani Mbanjwa and Lynnette Johns
International OnLine News

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma's disparate worlds met in a blaze of emotion, colour and stormy weather on Saturday, May 9, at his inauguration as president.

Of the 5 000 dignitaries, many were taxi owners, tycoons, the who's who of the political world, kings, dictators and presidents, rubbing shoulders with the ordinary man on the street.

Even the weather played along as an unseasonal downpour stopped minutes before the scheduled start of proceedings to install Zuma as the fourth president of a democratic South Africa.

An event of this stature is the only appropriate place where evening wear is acceptable for a morning occasion and many women wore extravagant outfits.

But outfits were forgotten when, just before 9am, the heavens opened, releasing a torrent of rain. Thousands of huge black umbrellas were opened. From the top, it looked like bobbing black sea.

For more than an hour it continued, sending many dignitaries scurrying for cover, wrapped in blankets supplied by the organisers.

Former Eskom chairperson Reuel Khoza and his wife, Mumsy, took cover close to the media balcony.

Khoza said the rain was "somewhat welcome, as in African tradition, if you have a party, particularly a wedding party, it is a portent of fertility. This could herald a bountiful future which will hopefully extend to politics. Rain is indeed a good portent," he said.

Mandla Gcaba, a prominent KwaZulu-Natal taxi tycoon, and his wife looked elegant. She was wearing a beautifully cut orange and gold two-piece ensemble while he looked dashing in a custom-made navy suit and alligator shoes. They sat close to reigning Miss South Africa Tatum Keshwar.

Billionaire Patrice Motsepe was accompanied by his wife, Dr Precious Moloi, while Soweto multi-millionaire Richard Maponya brought his daughter Chichi.

There were many KwaZulu-Natal luminaries at the event, among them Durban socialite Prince Sifiso Zulu, who embraced tearful former journalist Ranjeni Moonsamy, businessmen and Zuma benefactors Vivian Reddy, Don Mkhwanazi, Sandile Zungu and Alan Reddy, owner of SA Roadlink.

But newly disgraced Zuma patron Roy Moodley - who allegedly tried to bribe a government official to get a seat closer to the stage - was snubbed by the ANC and ended up sitting in the third row of a block of seats reserved for ANC spin doctors.

Chippy and Mo Shaik rubbed shoulders with Zuma biographer Jeremy Gordin. Their brother Schabir was not present.

The guest list included royalty in the form of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, King Mswati III of Swaziland and King Letsie III of Lesotho. Even toppled leaders such as ousted Madagascan president Marc Ravalomanana made an appearance alongside presidents Ian Khama (Botswana) and Joseph Kabila (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe may have been welcomed by loud applause, but it was "brother leader" Muammar Gaddafi, resplendent in full army regalia, who stole the show and had the crowd on their feet.

But the guests also went wild when a frail-looking Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, arrived.

The 30,000-strong crowd on the southern lawns, hundreds of metres below the open amphitheatre, watching via giant screens, joined in the jubilation of seeing "Tata Madiba".

This was in stark contrast to the jeering reception received by former deputy president and now Cope member Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

Former president Thabo Mbeki had a mixed reception from guests, with some booing and others clapping as he was introduced by the MC, ANC deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise.

ANC youth leaguers, joined by SACP boss Blade Nzimande and Cosatu's Zwelinzima Vavi, broke into song and dance on the wooden pavilion and "Zuma my president" reverberated across the amphitheatre.

Zuma's arrival, with his first wife, Sizakele "Ma Khumalo" Zuma, had people on their feet, many adding their voices to the song Sambeka uZuma ePitoli, sathi kuwe Msholozi, uze usiphathe ngoxolo (We have put Zuma in Pretoria and told him to lead us peacefully).

Zuma walked straight to Mbeki and the two men shared a warm embrace, in stark contrast to the reported frosty nature of their relationship.

But it was the sight of Zuma, on his knees in front of "Tata Madiba" in a supplicating manner, that silenced the crowd and brought many to tears.

After Zuma took the oath, the thousands of people craned their necks to watch an astonishing airshow put on by the South African Airforce.

Zuma left the ceremonies with his first wife. He said two of his other wives took their exit by a side door. In Zuma’s Zulu tradition a man may have multiple wives.

The traditional Xhosa praise singer was dispensed with in favour of a Zulu imbongi who performed with a huge wooden spear, to the delight of the audience.

This article was originally published on page 4 of Sunday Independent on May 10, 2009.

10 May 2009 — Return to cover.