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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 December 2007, 22:27 GMT
Zuma enjoys his crowning moment
By Will Ross
BBC News, Polokwane

Jacob Zuma (Photo: Peter Biles)
Jacob Zuma's call for ANC unity was warmly received by the delegates
As 4,000 delegates made their way towards the conference venue, a huge white tent on the campus of the University of Limpopo, many were wondering what Jacob Zuma might say.

Would the new president of the African National Congress call for unity at the end of a divisive week?

Or would he use it as an opportunity to assure South Africans, who have become increasingly disillusioned with the country's President, Thabo Mbeki, that change was on the way?

Many of the Jacob Zuma supporters have been partying since his election victory on Tuesday.

Judging by the tired look on the faces of the barmen of Polokwane, mornings have not been getting any easier for some of the delegates.

But on the way to the conference hall some may have heard news on their radios which would have taken a bit of the sparkle out of it all.

During an interview on South Africa's Talk Radio 702, the acting national director of public prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, was asked whether Mr Zuma could face imminent prosecution.

"I should say so," was the gist of the reply.

New worries

A corruption cloud has been hanging over Jacob Zuma's head for some time and the cloud is not blowing away.

For more than two years an investigation has been going on into the allegation that he benefited financially following a controversial arms deal in 1999. His financial adviser would have been following the week's political events from his prison cell, having been found guilty of fraud.

Delegates at the ANC conference listen to Jacob Zuma
The hall was full of delegates eager to hear the new leader
"The investigation is complete. We are tying up loose ends and the evidence we have now points to a case that can be taken to court," said Mr Mpshe.

Mr Zuma's allies were keen to criticise the timing of the news and express their belief that the court case is part of a plan to stop him reaching the presidency.

But judging by the volume inside the tent as delegates awaited Mr Zuma's speech, few of them were put off by Mr Mpshe's comments.

The delegates belted out songs from the ANC's liberation struggle, including Bamba Isandla Sami Tambo.

One morale-boosting song - Hold My Hand Tambo - referring to the late Oliver Tambo, the anti-apartheid stalwart who was a father figure to Thabo Mbeki.

Jacob Zuma made it clear at the opening of his speech that he was joining an illustrious list.

"I stand before you with great humility, as the 12th president of the ANC," he said.

Frenzy

He may have won a bitter election contest but Mr Zuma's message was one of unity - and it was warmly received inside and out of the tent.

He praised Thabo Mbeki, calling him "a comrade, a friend, a brother" and a leader, whilst asserting that Polokwane 2007 was not a conference of winners and losers.

It was a wonderful speech - a unifying speech. We only have one ANC
ANC delegate

Looking tired but at ease addressing the crowd, Mr Zuma's style was clearly different from Thabo Mbeki, who is viewed by his critics as aloof and out of touch and has been known to entertain audiences with a two-and-a-half hour speech full of statistics.

Jacob Zuma left the podium after 45 minutes, but returned seconds later to join in one final rendition of his trademark song uMchini Wami - Bring Me My Machine Gun.

It may seem a strange chorus but it sends the crowds into a frenzy.

Where next?

Mr Zuma's speech had hit all the right buttons.

"It was a wonderful speech - a unifying speech. We only have one ANC," said one delegate.

"It was very progressive. Bury the past and move forward. We are one," another added.

At the press conference that followed, Jacob Zuma laughed at the awkward questions and was in a jovial mood. It was no surprise that the very first question was about corruption and the possibility of an imminent trial.

"We will cross that bridge when we come to it," he kept repeating as several journalists tried to draw him on the issue.

However, Polokwane 2007 will be remembered for the divisive ANC election and it will take more than a speech to heal the rifts.

The question now is - will the conference be Jacob Zuma's political zenith or will he make it into the top job?

In the coming months he could well be in and out of the courts, and may well feel like he needs a few more renditions of Bamba Isandla Sami Tambo.

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