Page last updated at 16:22 GMT, Sunday, 19 April 2009 17:22 UK

Idol Mandela causes stir at rally

Nelson Mandela leaves Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, South Africa

People standing on their seats in Johannesburg's Ellis Park stadium squint into the sun to make sure their eyes are not deceiving them.

"Zuma is there..." a man says, pausing just in case what he sees isn't true.

"Mandela is there! Madiba! Madeeeeba!" he calls out Nelson Mandela's honorary clan title.

ANC supporters
Jacob Zuma has a very strong following among ANC supporters

Mr Mandela, clad in a bright yellow campaign shirt of the African National Congress, is only visible for an instant, waving from his seat at the back of a golf cart.

A woman next to him squeals in excitement. "He's my idol," she says.

The golf cart swerves off on a circuit around the stadium, sending camera operators flying after it.

But even a tiny glimpse of the 90-year-old former president is enough to send everyone dancing.


"How I wish that that Thabo Mbeki would be here, the family would be complete, it would be beautiful," another man says clutching his chest.

Sista Jovis
In this costume I represent the ordinary man, and I want to encourage everyone out to vote
Sista Jovis
ANC supporter

Analysts say the African National Congress is split.

Former president Thabo Mbeki was ousted from his job by supporters of the man most likely to become the next president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.

But to hear die-hard ANC supporters sing in harmony, full voiced and moving to the core, you wouldn't have known it.

ANC supporter Sista Jovis slept rough outside the stadium the night before in order to get in position early.

He wears a cloth bag over his head, holes cut for his eyes and mouth, and scrawled with the word "vote".

"In this costume I represent the ordinary man, and I want to encourage everyone out to vote."

"I love Jacob Zuma, when I see him I'm going to go crazy."

But during Zuma's speech there was hardly any cheering.

Only once was there a big outburst, when he said the ANC would install a "direct line" to the presidency so ordinary people could call them and let them know what was going wrong.

When Mr Zuma began singing his theme tune "Umshini Wami" (Bring me my machine gun), however, the falteringly delivered speech was forgotten.

He danced and sprang nimbly, and the crowd erupted at every hop.

Hope for Cope?

A few hours down the road another rally was taking place.

The Congress of the People (Cope) who broke away from the ANC last year were wrapping up their campaign in Polokwane, Limpopo province.

The crowd was much smaller, around 5,000.


Cope supporters rally in Limpopo

The BBC's Jonah Fisher says if the ANC rally was a premier league fixture, Cope's was a non-league tie.

Their candidate Mvume Dandala, a former Bishop, has not managed to develop the same cult status as Jacob Zuma.

Before he arrived on the stage with other Cope leaders, a traditionally dressed praise singer got up on stage and spoke in Xhosa.

He gave a long and florid biography of Mr Dandala, citing where he comes from, and where his parents came from.

After several minutes, the praise singer was tapped on the shoulder and asked politely to wrap it up.

My president

Cope supporters have another hero, former president Thabo Mbeki.

They bellowed his name, and sang harmonies on the phrase "my president".

It was rumoured that Mr Mbeki would attend the rally, cementing his defection from the ANC, but it was not to be.

It is said that he is still very upset about being ousted from his post as president at Polokwane last year.

The party were holding the rally back here because they expect to do well there, with a real chance of taking the regional government.

Mr Dandala told the BBC he believed the opposition would force the ANC vote down to below 50%.

But with the relentless machine of the ANC gearing up for the final days before election, nobody is saying they will not win by anything less than a very large margin.

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