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Victory for Zuma's hard-core fans

Zuma supporters in Pietermaritzburg

By Lucy Fleming
BBC News, Durban

To the delight of Jacob Zuma's hard-core fans, the African National Congress (ANC) leader is to face the South African electorate on Wednesday 22 April without corruption charges hanging over his head.

For retired ANC Durban councillor Phindi Duma it is a vindication for the passionate support she has shown the man who four years ago was a political pariah.

"I was present at all the cases," says the 68-year-old, who spent more than 25 years in exile in Mozambique during apartheid.

Mzamo Mathe
Sometimes we don't sleep because there will be thousands and thousands of people
Businessman Mzamo Mathe

The numerous court gatherings often had a carnival atmosphere, full of food and music - the smell of incense from herbs burned in traditional prayer rituals used to hang in the air.

And like the hundreds of other supporters who chanted and performed the South African toyi-toyi protest dance outside courtrooms across the country, Mrs Duma believes all the charges were politically motivated.

"People like him very very much so they started making new allegations every day… building something up against him, painting him black to the people," she says.

Mzamo Mathe, a Durban businessman and fellow court protester, agrees.

"Can you imagine a whole state preferring to spend millions and millions of rand chasing some allegation of 500,000?" he says.

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Mr Zuma's woes began in 2005 when he was sacked as deputy president after his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik was found guilty of fraud and corruption.

He was then charged with corruption in connection with the same multi-million dollar arms deal, and then there was the charge of rape - which was later acquitted.

But the corruption case, which initially collapsed, was revived in December 2007 after he won the presidency of the ANC.

On occasions Mrs Duma and Mr Mathe were part of a core group of supporters, but for the September hearing in Pietermaritzburg, when a ruling went in Mr Zuma's favour, the crowds turned out overnight to cheer on their man.

Zuma supporter with a wooden machine gun
Zuma supporters took up aim outside courthouses

"Sometimes we don't sleep because there will be thousands and thousands of people," says Mr Mathe, who runs a construction company employing 60 people.

As the boss, he was easily able to attend the trials - sometimes taking along his young six-year-old daughter for a day out.

But he says other fans took leave in order to come to court.

"You can see a lot of sacrifice from various people because they felt it is a just cause."

Phindi Duma
Without those guerrillas, without those guns we wouldn't be here today talking about the government
Retired ANC councillor Phindi Duma

"We'll be all toyi-toying, all chatting and also singing all kinds of songs - liberation songs."

But the supporters have come in for criticism for jeering at the woman Mr Zuma was accused of raping and one rallying song has been the subject of heated controversy - Umshini wami (Bring me my machine gun).

It is regarded as Mr Zuma's anthem, with some fans taking aim outside court with wooden crafted machine guns.

It has led to accusations that the man who led the ANC's military wing from exile in Mozambique has been using the threat of violence instead of the democratic process to fight his cause.

ANC youth leader Julius Malema was heavily criticised last year for warning that supporters were prepared to take up arms for Mr Zuma.

"We are prepared to die for Zuma," he said.

'Not free financially'

But Mrs Duma says the song underlies the freedoms that the liberation struggle achieved.

Jacob Zuma singing with supporters
Mr Zuma has huge grassroots support and is seen as a man of the people

"We all believe that we got our freedom because of the machine gun.

"Without those guerrillas, without those guns we wouldn't be here today talking about the government.

"We are now free to talk - even on TV, on the newspapers, on radio, you can do what you like because we are free."

She was a nurse in KwaZulu-Natal before going to Mozambique in 1965, after a brief detention - leaving behind her husband, children and mother.

On her return in 1991, her husband died and she struggled to put her children through university.

"We are not 100% free - the economy is still with our oppressors. We like this song [Umshini wami] very much as it revives us; it makes us feel that we still have to fight."

Much of Mr Zuma's core support has come from his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, but both Mrs Duma and Mr Mathe insist it is wrong to see him as only popular among Zulu voters.

"This thing of separating us ethnically is something that came with the white people. He is a Zulu right enough but he is a South African more importantly," Mrs Duma says.

He knows what his people want because he himself has suffered
Phindi Duma

For the two Zuma fans it is the word "humble" that best sums up the ANC leader, who received no formal schooling and spent 10 years on Robben Island during the fight against apartheid.

"We all like him because he talks our language and he knows what his people want because he himself has suffered - if you have never suffered, you really don't know what to do," says Mrs Duma.

As a man of the people, they both think he is the one person in the ANC who will be able to deliver on his promises.

"I always answer this question in terms of Brazil, where I was lucky enough to study," says Mr Mathe.

"When [Luiz Inacio Lula] da Silva took over there, most Americans and Britons thought he was going to destroy the economy, but because he was a down-to-earth person he was able to deliver - look at the Brazilian economy today.

"Jacob Zuma will do the same, he'll probably surpass him."



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