President Jacob Zuma used his 75th birthday celebrations to cement his position as the country’s head and ease the concerns of his supporters amid growing calls for his removal from office.
“I don’t get stressed. Stress is a white man’s disease and that is why the term ‘stress’ did not exist in the Zulu language,” he chuckled as he spoke to thousands of people in Kliptown, Soweto.
He called on ANC members to ignore the actions of the opposition, saying it was the opposition’s job to oppose anything and everything done by the ruling party.
“Do not fear when the opposition speaks the way it does. They are doing their job to oppose what others do. If they don’t deliver, they aren’t doing their jobs,” he said.
Closing his speech, Zuma said he would be willing to step down only if it was what the ANC wanted.
“Even if you tell me to resign tomorrow, I’ll do so without any animosity,” he said in Zulu.
Zuma said he would lead the country until the end of his term in 2019 but he was ready to hand over the reins as ANC president in December at the party’s national executive conference.
He warned that his successor would face as much criticism as he had.
Zuma told the celebratory crowd that he would die an ANC supporter. He said he would continue to serve, without pay, when his term ended.
Of the top six in the party hierarchy, only Jesse Duarte was present for the celebrations.
She thanked Zuma for being “a true leader”, saying he had remained dignified despite the growing opposition to his presidency.
Throwing a barb at EFF leader and former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Duarte said he was “fighting to be the president that he would never be”.
Kebby Maphatsoe, of the MK Veterans’ Association, told Zuma: “You will continue to lead the country until 2019, so don’t stress.”
Zuma honoured Ontlametse Phalatse who died of progeria on Tuesday night, aged 18 with a moment’s silence. She had been invited to Zuma’s birthday celebration.
Instead, her mother, Bellon Phalatse, attended and received the car Zuma had promised to buy for Ontlametse when he met her last month.
Zuma also promised to build a house for Phalatse, who was celebrating her 46th birthday yesterday.