President Jacob Zuma dances on stage with the Lerumo La Sechaba group during the African National Congress (ANC) KwaZulu-Natal provincial manifesto launch at the Harry Gwala Stadium on June 12, 2016 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. Speaking at the launch, Zuma lashed out at those guilty of political violence. (Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Thuli Dlamini)

I see your #Jerusalemachallenge, I see your #Johnvuligate, and I raise you the ‘presidential electric politrick’.

Once again South Africa is in the grip of another dance challenge as #johnvuligate spreads. Thankfully for the rhythmically challenged, like this writer, this particular challenge has far fewer steps than the #jerusalemachallenge that uncle Cyril recommended we all get into just last month on Heritage Day.

To be fair on Cyril, bar that time he tried the vosho during the honeymoon of his presidency, when the nation was still on the rebound from the greatest dancer to ever occupy the office of the presidency, the flexible Mr Zuma, Cyril has deprived the nation of its most valued quality in a leader. It is, after all, well established scientific fact that the most important quality a South African politician can possess is a captivating dance move.

Zuma, the man, the phenomenon, went beyond the call of duty when it came to that special politician’s dance, which I like to call the presidential electric politrick (PEP). I doubt we’ll see that kind of talent again anytime soon. Fret not about small details like good governance, integrity, honesty, empathy, a good reputation, fairness, and whatever the opposite of corruption is. A lack of one or all of these qualities need not get in the way of one’s political ambitions. A good handle of the presidential electric politrick is a bit like personal protective equipment, to protect you from insignificant things like accountability. The PEP is in fact the original PPE.

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Who can forget the early take on the PEP, that of the first president of the new republic, Nelson Mandela? Elbows bent, hands formed into fists, moving gently from side to side, as though rocking the rainbow nation to sleep. Truth? Reconciliation? Economic transformation? Ssh… go to sleep, little rainbow nation.

Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
September 1997: Former president Nelson Mandela dances while Vicky Sampson performs, Miss South Africa Peggy Sue Khumalo is seated at the build up to the 2004 South African Olympic bid event, Cape Town. (Photo by Gallo Images/Oryx Media Archive)
Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
Nelson Mandela smiles as he attends an ANC victory march in 1994 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Paul Weinberg)

Those were the days!

As his term came to a close, some panicked. What would happen now? Would the rainbow nation wake up from its slumber without the great man’s PEP to calm it? As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Although No 2 was taken to reading and writing poetry, perhaps with a whisky in hand, it turned out that he was also a man who understood tradition. Even as South Africans were faced with inequality, crime and the HIV/AIDS epic, Mbeki knew what they really needed: garlic, beetroot, potatoes and most importantly, a new, improved, and more elaborate take on the PEP.

Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
1997. Deputy President Thabo Mbeki dances with school children.

A simple side-to-side rocking wouldn’t do for the great poet. Don’t get me wrong, he could rock it just as well as his predecessor. But the rainbow nation just wouldn’t remain asleep. They seem rattled, they had demands, and acronyms. They wanted ARVs and RDP homes. They learnt new words, like corruption, and started looking for it. He wrote them poetry. They were not satisfied. He would have to take things up a notch, so he added a bit more pep to his PEP. A bit more leg action. He would jump high, knees bent. The cameras snapped. The rainbow nation smiled. Goodnight now, sleep tight.

South Africans! Give them an arm, and they want all four limbs.

For a while, it seemed the people would calm down, even as tens of thousands died preventable deaths.

Sadly for the poet president, his talented deputy Jacob Zuma’s moves caught the attention of the populace. Thabo would eventually have to step down before the end of his term. Zuma would rise and move and groove; he would revolutionise the presidential electric politrick and take it to levels never before imagined. No longer would it be a few simple moves to sedate the masses. Under his watch, he would make it truly electric. The rainbow nation would be transfixed by his moves, while he kept eye and hand on the coffers, for protection.

He took that basic (and in hindsight boring) Mandela PEP, applied some lessons from the Mbeki era, specifically the importance of fully applying all four limbs to the movement; and then he brought in a sense of heritage and tradition by incorporating a few traditional Zulu moves. News of this rhythmic sensation would spread far and wide, from Saxonwold shebeens to billionaire Gupta family-owned Dubai apartments. There was a new kid on the block. It was party time! Together with his friends, the talented Mr Zuma would capture the moment and the state with his dance moves. Shit was lit!

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Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
President Jacob Zuma sings and dances during the African National Congress (ANC) manifesto launch at the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium on April 16, 2016 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Simphiwe Nkwali)
Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
President Jacob Zuma dances with ANCYL members during his 75th birthday celebrations at Kliptown on April 12, 2017 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)
Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
Former African National Congress President Jacob Zuma dances on stage during the party’s Election Manifesto Launch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday, 12 January 2019. (Photo by Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

So prolific was this man on the dance floor, that even politicians who had no chance at the presidency would create their own versions of the PEP, call it the less presidential electric politrick. Then DA leader Helen Zille danced her way to a more racially diverse Democratic Alliance. A former friend of Zuma, Malema, took a swipe at her LPEP:

“Have you ever seen an ugly woman in a blue dress dancing like a monkey because she is looking for votes?”

Nevertheless, she pushed on. And a few years later, she would name and welcome Randburg preacher, Aloysias Maimane, as the DA’s first black leader, in an event electrified by song and dance.

Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
15 Ocotber 2006. South Africa. Cape Town mayor, Helen Zille getting down with the elders of the “Age in Action” women to celebrate their 50th birthday.
Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
DA leader Helen Zille marches with supporters during an election campaign on April 16, 2014 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Foto24 / Lisa Hnatowicz)

The best of times!

As she was about to announce Maimane as the new leader of the DA, she broke into song, Brenda Fassie’s rendition of the popular Xhosa wedding song, Vul’indlela.

Vul’ indlela weMaMgobhozi (Make way MaMgobhozi)
He unyana wam (My son..)
Helele uyatshata namhlanje (…is getting married today)
Vul’ indlela wena MaNyawuza (Make way MaNyawuza)
Suba nomona (Don’t be jealous)

The crowd screamed and applauded. She promised that it was the last time they would hear her sing. It wouldn’t be the last they saw her dance, however; a few minutes after she announces the Maimane as the new leader, others join her on stage in a vigorous toyi-toyi. Things looked positively rainbow nation. Zuma was shaking in his boots, he knew that popular culture is a constantly transforming beast. To dance the same move, year after year, festive season after festive season would not suffice. Easily distracted South Africans would look away, Zille way. Perhaps they might even find themselves upset by the crumbling institutions, widespread crime and poverty, and failing economy.

Ever the caring father figure, with a homestead to match, he would have to work harder. He studied the moves of the day. He added a dip to his moves, a sort of rhythmic lunge. Say what you will, but the man had strong thigh muscles. Clearly, he was putting all that Nkandla space to good use, jogging, swimming, and firefighting, with pool water nogal.

Alas, it would not last. The cultural window is a strange thing. It’s fixed on you one day and you’re a hit, everybody wants a piece of you and the state. And then the next moment, they want something new. Perhaps he should have twerked.

Indeed, the cultural window shifted. The gifted Zuma’s moment was over. Ungrateful South Africans, awoken from their rainbow nation slumber by Zuma’s high voltage PEP, wanted a hit of that new drug on the streets, they wanted that Ramaphoria.

Even at the beginning of his presidency, Cyril knew that it would be a long time before South Africa would see the likes of Zuma’s talent. His own moves were nothing to write home about. But, as any South African president and presidential hopeful worth their chops knows, the masses would not stand a presidential term lacking in dance, song and rhythm. Everyone knows that although he was a stand-in president, the real reason no one speaks of Kgalema Montlathe’s brief time in office was his embarrassing lack of decent dance moves to inspire the nation.

Not so with the boardroom president. Ramaphosa would begin his term with that passable vosho, right at the height of the dance craze. But even he knew he was no match for Zuma’s stamina and Herculean thigh muscles. Being a proactive man, he took to Sea Point promenade walks with the Atlantic Seaboard’s yummy mummy set. Ramaphoria took hold. A thousand Perth immigration plans were put on ice. Cyril got complacent and stopped dancing. Some say he went on with the business of governance and rebuilding South Africa, and something about strengthening the NPA? Good thing I suppose, we haven’t had strong acronyms in a while, not since the poet’s time. But, the masses, deprived of groove, were pissed. They called him aloof, distant.

Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
The Siyabonga Re a Leboga rally (express gratitude) to the voters was held outside Luthuli House ANC Headquarters, president gave a speech, and later danced to music with other party leaders such as Ace Magashule foto Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24 story Bonolo Selebano
Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma
Deputy President dances during the ANC 104 Anniversary at Old Peter Mokaba Stadium on February 7, 2016 in Polokwane, South Africa. Ramaphosa said the ANC would not gamble with peoples futures during the 2016 local government elections. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Sandile Ndlovu)

But 2020 would bring relief for the rhythmically challenged capitalist, as the pandemic hit and grabbed everyone’s attention. And dancing seemed somewhat inappropriate. But Cyril knows the times have changed. South Africans have miraculously cured through minimal distancing and illicit cigarettes. And now, the cultural window is shifting. The masses are hungry for a celebration. They want to dance like they did last Zuma. They want their president to lead the way. “Cyril vul’ igate!” they say. But Cyril is panicking.

If I may be so forward as to address the leader directly. Mr President, your earlier voshofied PEP was not a bad one; do not be discouraged. Yes, it was a bit stiff, but not bad. I suggest you loosen it up a bit, relax your muscles, so that when you dip low, it looks as though you’re in free fall, then when you come back up, the move will be that much more impactful. Give it a new name too. Let’s put the old PEP to rest. Call it… I don’t know… the Economic Free Fall — it’s got a ring to it. DM/ML

Let's dance again, like we did last Zuma


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