I did not imagine being able to see the president of South Africa when I cam to study here for the semester. I had hoped that it might be possible because it is an election year. Then an email came through the NMMU system telling us that he would be on campus Saturday! There were three other international students (our group was 2 Americans, 1 girl from Norway, and 1 girl from Germany) that wanted to go with me from our accommodation. We kept trying to decide when to leave and finally we thought we would leave approximately an hour before the doors opened. I had no idea who difficult it would be to get in or find a seat. My only point of reference is the US and its crazy in the US for an event like this.
It was tricky finding the auditorium because the school buildings were not open, which is the only way I know how to get around North Campus (cutting through all of the buildings). So, we went the long way around! Twice. Finally, we made it to the courtyard and many of the students already had on the yellow ANC shirts. We thought maybe they were giving the shirts away in the parking lot and since we couldn’t yet go into the auditorium we’d try to get a shirt for ourselves. Out in the parking lot they were setting up tents, grills, and a stage for another event but we didn’t see anyone giving away the yellow shirts. So, we meandered back to the building to see if we could get in yet. The security guards rejected us again, so we found a place in the shade to soak up some of the university’s wifi.
Each of us became immersed in our on 3×5 world of our phones. A few minutes later I was jarred out of my electronic stupor when I heard American accents from unfamiliar voices. I saw a ginger boy and a blonde girl just feet from me and I had no idea who they were. Waiting for a brief pause in their conversation, I blurted out “Where are y’all from?” Now, they looked equally puzzled to see me! Then come to find out they were from St. John’s and St. Ben’s respectively. We finally discovered why we never see these students! It is because their program at NMMU follows the semester schedule back in the US, which means that they have their own classes etc. Mystery solved! I would really hate that because they don’t get a chance to meet South Africans or other international students. Our conversation with them was interrupted when NMMU students started singing songs and getting ready for the rally. After a moment a circle of students gathered and I went closer to video their singing and dancing.
By the end of the video you maybe able to tell that the circle disbanded and we started to walk towards the doors. The singing didn’t stop until President Zuma took the stage. It was so interesting to see how the songs transitioned one to the next. There were no microphones and none were needed. But if someone started a song and the rest of the crowd didn’t like the song or the voice of the person who started it, they would quickly move on to the next one. Before the crowd grew inside of the auditorium there was much up and down because the songs were not flowing. I joked with my new friend sitting next to me that it felt like church. Then the crowd grew and the signing became constant. I didn’t know any of the words but I can always clap! So, I stood and clapped along to the songs. At one point they couldn’t stay in their seats any longer and formed a line toyi-toying around the perimeter of the auditorium. Then we got word that President Zuma had finally arrived and the crowd started singing his favorite songs. By this time the place was bursting at the seems and students were overflowing outside.
The panel discussion itself was very party-line. I was not surprised though because it was a political rally to motivate the young people to vote. I did wonder then why was it staged as a panel discussion? Why not just re-frame the event to let each of these panelist speak in praise of the African National Congress (ANC) and President Zuma? I thought it would have kept the momentum moving along, morale higher, and lent transparency to the event. Just a couple of thoughts as an interested observer.
Before the rally was over President Zuma himself led the crowd in a couple of songs and everyone loved it!
I really wish we had more singing and dancing in our culture but especially at our political events. So much more fun! If we do adopt something like this I definitely think it’ll be the Democrats who do it first 😉 By the time we left we were all in high spirits.