Thabo Mokone and Sibusiso Ngalwa
EMBATTLED ANC Youth League president Julius Malema may not have addressed the ANC’s 100-years celebrations but his presence was felt throughout the proceedings.
The packed 48000-capacity Free State Stadium burst into loud cheers when Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who directed the programme, announced Malema’s presence.
The youth leader – in a white Cuban shirt, dark sunglasses and his trademark beret – was cheered every time his face was beamed on the giant screen above the main stage, where he was seated with the rest of the ANC’s national executive committee.
But it was definitely President Jacob Zuma’s show as his entrance was met with loud cheers and spontaneous singing of his trademark song Umshini wami.
Former president Thabo Mbeki seems to have found his way back into the hearts of supporters as the mention of his name drew cheers which rivalled those for Zuma and Malema.
Zuma spent 90 minutes delivering his January 8 statement which was mostly anchored on the ruling party’s and South Africa’s history from the era of colonialism to apartheid.
There was mixed reaction from the crowd when secretary-general Gwede Mantashe emerged from the VIP holding room to take up his seat on the stage.
The event, which took place in scorching Bloemfontein heat, was incident free despite attempts by a small group from Limpopo to disrupt the proceedings. The group’s singing of Uphi uJuju, asiphelelanga (Where is Malema? We Are Incomplete Without Him) was drowned out by music from giant speakers.
Even their boos at Zuma and Mantashe were insignificant in comparison to the loud applause received by the two leaders.
Malema’s youth league wants Zuma and Mantashe removed from their ANC positions at the party’s elective conference in December.
The unruly behaviour by the Limpopo grouping prompted ANC national chairperson Baleka Mbete to call on the ANC security to “do your job”.
“Comrades, it’s not impossible for you to be thrown out,” she warned.
Mbete then continued and the Limpopo grouping eventually backed down.
Mbeki also played a small role during the event, which was addressed only by Zuma.
The former president joined Rivonia trialists Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni in handing over the ANC centenary flame.
The event also had overflow areas at three nearby smaller stadiums which accommodated those who could not get into the main venue.
The ANC claimed to have attracted 100000 supporters.
A number of local musicians – including Professor, Trompies, Big Nuz and Winnie Khumalo – kept the crowd entertained.
The festivities were followed by a fireworks display.