The Guardian, London: The former South African president Jacob Zuma’s plan to record an album of apartheid-era struggle songs has provoked a political row as opposition politicians labelled the project a taxpayer-funded waste of money.
Zuma, ousted last year amid multiple fraud scandals, is famed for his baritone singing voice and regularly bursts into song at rallies for the ruling African National Congress party (ANC) and at 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 from the decades-long struggle against white-minority rule that are still sung at protests in South Africa.
“These songs remind us of where we came from and how our country was forged,” said Thembinkosi Ngcobo, the head of recreation and culture at the Ethekwini municipality, which will fund the album.
“The worst thing that we could do would be to forget our past,” Ngcobo told Agence France-Presse. “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, with the former president giving his time for free to “preserve and disseminate 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,” the local opposition councillor Nicole Graham, from the Democratic Alliance party (DA), 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 but was ousted by ANC lawmakers early last year after a fierce battle for control of the party. Thought to have little personal wealth, he is battling to quash criminal charges against him over a £1.8bn 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.