16/10/2017 15:46 SAST | Updated 17/10/2017 09:37 SAST

On The Campaign Trail With NDZ: Taking On Cyril In His Backyard

The presidential hopeful displayed a show of force, but not everybody was convinced that she should be the country's next leader.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
RAJESH JANTILAL via Getty Images
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has flexed her political muscle in Limpopo, her weekend-long crusade in the province serving as a blatant show of force that flies in the face of her main opponent, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa's influence over various regions in his home province should not be doubted, but the former African Union Commission chairperson, now being called "Mama Radical Economic Transformation" by some in her circles, is becoming a force in Limpopo.

Dlamini-Zuma's supporters recently claimed the Mopani region -- the biggest in the province -- and rolled out the red carpet for her on Saturday in Giyani where she started her canvassing. Then came the middle finger to Ramaphosa and his Limpopo man, Stanley Mathabatha.

The second leg of her campaign on Sunday was held at a high school in Mohlarekoma, which falls under the factionally divided Sekhukhune region, and which is minutes away from Mathabatha's home.

Pontsho Mabena

'On your marks, get set, we are ready for Nkosazana'

Dlamini-Zuma arrived on Saturday -- an hour late -- to a packed community hall in Giyani; every seat filled mostly with women, young and old. Her convoy, made up of more than half a dozen vehicles, was welcomed by a group of women chanting her campaign song, "On your marks, get set, we are ready for Nkosazana".

There are dance moves that go along with the tune as well.

The hype when she entered was just as energetic as the hype around the free T-shirts being handed out before her arrival, with mobs breaking out in the crowd, shoving and shouting to get their hands on one.

Six Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) members dressed in military regalia stood guard in front of the stage where she took her seat next to ANC Women's League (ANCWL) bigwigs, ANC Youth League provincial leaders and MK Military Veterans' Association members.

Those who came to the podium before Dlamini-Zuma -- including the likes of ANCWL deputy president Sefora Ntombela -- riled up the crowd, which slumped into a pesky chatter while Dlamini-Zuma spoke.

The hum echoing from the jabbering audience was, every now and again, broken up by cheering when she said something to spur them on.

Keeping to her usual rhetoric, Dlamini-Zuma spoke of radical socioeconomic transformation, which, according to her, means free education, land redistribution, industrialisation and ownership change in the economy. Keeping true to her female audience, she also slammed patriarchy and petitioned for gender equality.

Unity in the ANC was also a big calling card.

"We are saying for us [the ANC], unity is very important. Because after the [national conference], the hard work will start -- not only for strengthening our structures, but also for campaigning for 2019. The ANC has no option but to win in 2019," she said.

When she left the podium, not the stage, the back-benchers in the audience filed out towards the lobby where the free food was waiting.

Pontsho Mabena

Focus on the traditional leaders, gain the community

What sets Dlamini-Zuma apart from some of her competitors is her ability to gain the affection of tradition leaders in regions across the country. Much like her ex-husband in his campaign for presidency 10 years ago, Dlamini-Zuma spends a bulk of her time visiting royal households and traditional sectors of the community -- her canvassing on Sunday was no different.

Although the initial invitation to her keynote address at the Khoshigadi Madinoge Kgoloko memorial lecture in Mohlarekoma was scheduled for 11am on Sunday, it was moved back to later in the afternoon to make way for meetings with traditional leaders.

She spent the morning paying a courtesy visit to the Kgoloko royal family before laying a wreath at Khoshigadi Madinoge Kgoloko's grave.

For this, her convoy grew double and the might of the leagues supporting her were boasted by the appearance of Collen Maine and Bathabile Dlamini, the presidents of the youth and women's leagues.

A larger crowd awaited Dlamini-Zuma at the memorial lecture, with hundreds of people, again mostly women, packed under two white marquees. Dlamini, who introduced their presidential candidate, may have been mindful over the crowd's blabbering the day before and urged the audience to maintain respect while Dlamini-Zuma spoke.

Her speech, again, was engaging but not provoking. She regurgitated the same discourse on radical economic transformation and this time, added in bits about the need to bring an end to tribalism.

The crowd cheered at times, danced when her theme song came on, and at the end, it was again onward to the food stalls.

Pontsho Mabena

What does Limpopo really think?

There was a clear disparity between supporters who attended Dlamini-Zuma's event in Giyani and those at Mohlarekoma the next day.

In Giyani, those who spoke to the HuffPost SA were firm in their belief that Dlamini-Zuma should be the country's next president. They said she would bring along change through the creation of jobs, the eradication of poverty and the initiation of free education.

Giyani resident Amukelo Chawani (34) said she supported Dlamini-Zuma because it is time for a female president.

"We want change and uMama [Dlamini-Zuma] wants change for women. We want to be part of the community the same as men and she can do this for us," Chawani said.

Asked about other female presidential candidates, like Lindiwe Sisulu, Chawani simply responded: "We don't know her".

But in Mohlarekoma, the crowd seemed more on the fence between the frontrunners.

Ratsebo Mabasa (26) said Ramaphosa would be the better candidate and she had only attended the event for the food, and to see how people were reacting to Dlamini-Zuma.

"I am a Ramaphosa supporter, but it is interesting to see how Dlamini-Zuma talks. Whoever wins, as long as they do what they are promised actually. Also, we came for the food," she said, laughing.

This is what others in Limpopo said at the weekend:

Interestingly, ANC NEC member Pule Mabe, who was at Dlamini-Zuma's side throughout the event in Giyani, told the HuffPost SA that one of the reasons he supports her, and no other candidate, is because it is the directive of the ANCYL.

After speaking at length about the need for RET, he was asked why he supported Dlamini-Zuma when most other candidates have expressed the same sentiment about economic change.

"I come from the ANC Youth League... The ANC Youth League that I have led has pronounced [itself] in what it wants to see happening. It is only fair, that as a former leader of the ANC Youth League guided by those past convictions, I submit to the call made by the organisation... I take my direction there," he said.

But why won't you answer our questions, NDZ?

It appears Dlamini-Zuma and her campaign team have their favourites in the media industry and this was most blatant at the weekend.

On day one, HuffPost SA pressured her campaign team for a short one-one-one interview. After refusals and excuses throughout the day, they finally said the presidential frontrunner could be door-stopped on her way out the community hall in Giyani.

When the videographer tried to get a word from her, he was shoved away by her bodyguards as she walked directly to ANN7 cameras waiting outside for her.

On day two, when she was most accessible during a lunch with traditional leaders and League members, HuffPost SA was again turned down. Perhaps Dlamini-Zuma is shy around interviews with mainstream media.

However, when the SABC crew approached her, she had harsh words for them. Clearly annoyed, she asked the team why they had not covered her event on Saturday. And she demanded answers before granting the SABC two minutes of camera time.

"Why do you want to interview me here [it was at an eating venue]? Interview me later, what will it show here? There is nobody here?" she told them.

Her stance was reiterated by Carl Niehaus, who has reappeared as her sort-of spokesperson (his exact role in her campaign is questionable). He scolded the SABC team, saying they would be monitoring their coverage of Sunday's memorial lecture.

And when HuffPost SA questioned Niehaus about media favouritism, he pulled the videographer aside, using a single waving finger to direct him across the room.

"I told you none of you [is] getting interviews here... I am tired of you harassing her now," he said before storming off.

It seems a tactical strategy which allows Dlamini-Zuma an all-access pass to the media, but does not award the latter the same opportunity. Avoid the tough questions, manipulate the conversation. Right?

Cyril will have to do something to maintain a Limpopo lead

Media aside, Dlamini-Zuma's growing popularity in Limpopo will surely have the Ramaphosa backers scrambling to maintain their control over branches.

On Sunday, his supporters hosted another event close by the high school where Dlamini-Zuma appeared, but did not have the numbers or their main man there to speak. Perhaps, they just wanted their presence to be felt.

But, it seems Ramaphosa will have his work cut out the next time he visits his home province to avoid the risk of having his voting branch members snatched from under his nose.

Photo gallery ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma visits Mohlarekoma, Limpopo for her campaign. See Gallery