Former South African president Jacob Zuma’s plan to record an album of apartheid-era struggle songs sparked off a political row Thursday as opposition politicians slammed the project as a taxpayer-funded waste of money.
Zuma, ousted from power last year amid multiple fraud scandals, is famed for his rich baritone singing voice and regularly bursts into song at ruling ANC party rallies and public events.
He plans to record the album in front of a live audience in April and to release it later in the year, with his trademark song “Awuleth’ Umshini Wami” (“Bring Me My Machine Gun”) set to be on the playlist.
The song is one of many tunes that played a central role in the decades-long struggle against white-minority rule and which are still sung at protests in South Africa today.
“These songs remind us of where we came from and how our country was forged,” said Thembinkosi Ngcobo, head of recreation and culture at the Ethekwini local municipality, which will fund the album.
“The worst thing that we could do would be to forgot our past,” Ngcobo told AFP. “We chased president Zuma for three months and, when he heard about our plan, he was more excited than us about it.”
Ngcobo said Zuma would not be paid or receive any profits from the album, and was giving his time for free to “preserve and disseminate of our liberation heritage”.
Ethekwini municipality, which includes the coastal city of Durban, is in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu Natal — a hotbed of the corruption scandals that beset his rule as president and finally led to his ousting.
“The album itself is not an issue at all — except that it will be funded by public money and we have no idea how much,” local opposition councillor Nicole Graham, from the Democratic Alliance party, told AFP.
“This is about factional battles within the ANC party, with his supporters attempting to give him a continued platform after his fall.
“The DA will fight this matter tooth and nail in the interests of all who prioritise service delivery over politics.”
Zuma, 76, came to power in 2009 and was ousted by ANC lawmakers early last year after a fierce battle for control of the party.
The former president, who is thought to have little personal wealth, is battling to quash criminal charges against him over a $2.5-billion corruption case linked to a 1990s arms deal.
He also faces allegations of fostering widespread corruption while in power.
Ngcobo said Zuma’s singing was a key part of his political image.
“It was one reason for his popularity. It projects him as an informal, friendly and accessible person,” he said.