SUNDAY TIMES - A rousing welcome for Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma, and a warning for rivals
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Sunday Times News By QAANITAH HUNTER, 2017-03-19 00:00:00.0

A rousing welcome for Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma, and a warning for rivals

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma arrives home from her AU Commission posting to a welcome organised by her political backers.
Image: MASI LOSI

It looked and sounded like a presidential campaign, but they were not calling it that. They couldn't - not without finding themselves on the wrong side of Luthuli House's rules.

While many South Africans were preoccupied with the proceedings at the Constitutional Court regarding social grants, supporters of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's bid for the presidency gathered at OR Tambo International Airport for the start of what promises to be a long campaign.

They came prepared with printed banners bearing her face.

They sang songs in praise of the former AU Commission chairwoman, some even referring to her as "my president" in the way they did in 2005 when President Jacob Zuma began his march to the Union Buildings.

Thursday's event, organised by the ANC Women's League and the ANC Youth League, was ostensibly to "welcome" Dlamini-Zuma "back in the country" after four-and-a- half years based at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

A colleague looking on couldn't help but quip: "Why are they welcoming her home when she spent more time in South Africa than in Addis?"

In reality, the rally was for show, a warning to other pretenders to the throne that Dlamini-Zuma - like Zuma in his presidential campaigns before her - has the masses on her side.

It was hardly surprising, then, that youth league secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza hinted at the organisation's attempt to strong-arm Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa into withdrawing from the succession race.

The youth league insists that Ramaphosa flouted the rules by agreeing to contest the ANC presidency without being formally endorsed by an ANC structure.

The irony is that Dlamini-Zuma's supporters are themselves flouting the rules by initiating her campaign - one in which she will travel to all 54 ANC regions.

Ramaphosa is seen as Dlamini-Zuma's main rival, but her supporters have made it clear that they want an uncontested party conference.

They are doing so in the name of unity, but a partisan unity that they would only accept if Dlamini-Zuma was at the helm.

From the robust reception at OR Tambo, it seemed clear where her core support comes from: a network of once-relevant players in the government all now linked to a faction loyal to Zuma.

Also, one cannot help but link Dlamini-Zuma's key campaigners to the dodgy friends of her ex-husband, the Guptas.

Of all the South African politicians who have crossed paths with the 68-year-old in her almost five decades of political struggle and leadership, it was the president of the youth league, Collen Maine, who took the lead in formally receiving Dlamini-Zuma.

Close behind him was Mzwanele Manyi, a former government spokesman who has become a staunch defender of Zuma and campaigner for Dlamini-Zuma.

These less-than-scrupulous political players have become the core group toiling and scheming to get her elected as the next ANC president - and consequently sullying her name.

For example, the most senior authority in Dlamini-Zuma's campaign, women's league president and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, is the protagonist in a social grants crisis that is the result of her inaction and incompetence.

But because of the arcane nature of the ANC's succession process, Dlamini-Zuma will have to rely on Dlamini as a surrogate to call on ANC members to support her - while she speaks broadly of her vision for Africa and comments on the economy, completely ignoring the pressing political issues facing South Africa.

Even if Dlamini-Zuma wanted to talk about poor governance or corruption or even state capture, she is at the mercy of her supporters .

As Maine said: "We will walk side by side with Comrade Nkosazana. She is in our hands."

Her supporters in the ANC may genuinely believe she is best placed to take over the leadership of the party, but in reality she is merely a proxy for pockets of ambition .