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A look at the leadership

Having gained notoriety last year for our fairly tame “unauthorised” documentary film on Thabo Mbeki, it’s a bit of an anti-climax to finish our most recent film on the ANC succession race, Through the Eye of a Needle, and to realise that there’s no one to ban us this time.

Undoubtedly this film would be taken off air by SABC commissars if it had been commissioned by the national broadcaster. We spent two weeks in the Eastern Cape, talking to rank-and-file ANC members about the leadership race. And the results are not pretty.

The depth of anger on both sides is remarkable. On the Mbeki side, a repeated accusation is that the Zuma camp is populated by criminals and rapists. One senior Mbeki-ite even explicitly makes the argument that if Zuma’s supporters are supporting a criminal, they must be criminals themselves.

In the Zuma camp, the most common refrain is that Mbeki’s supporters have made a habit of using state institutions to manipulate the political process; more specifically, that Zuma supporters are being systematically targeted by trumped-up corruption charges.

In both cases, the criticisms of the two leaders are projected into their camps. All Zuma supporters are corrupt rapists. All Mbeki supporters are authoritarian manipulators. It’s hard to see how the ANC will emerge united any time soon from these slurs.

One set of voices does emerge untainted in our film. Those are the voices of a very poor community of shack dwellers in Potsdam, a village close to the huge, sprawling township of Mdantsane. We visited the Potsdam community a few weeks after its recent service-delivery protests, at which shack-dweller leaders were shot at by police using tear gas and rubber bullets. Several community members are still in hospital.

We found the Potsdam community defiantly singing Umshini Wami. Had they always sung this song, or was it a sign of their identification with Zuma? The answer is probably both, but undoubtedly their chorus has grown in intensity since their recent experiences with government.

“I hate Thabo Mbeki,” says Xolile, one shack-dweller leader in our film. “Mbeki goes to Europe in a suit and tells the Europeans that all is well in South Africa. He never comes here to do anything about our situation. If Zuma knew about our problems, he would help us.”

Xolile’s faith in the ANC deputy president is soon challenged by another community leader, Marilyn, a feisty woman who asks: “Has the ANC done anything to help us?” After a pause to think, Xolile answers “No.” “So why do you vote for ANC?” asks Marilyn.

“The ANC used to have great leaders” explains Xolile, “but today our leaders are hungry and corrupt. Maybe after Zuma, a new leader will come who will be right.”

Perhaps this exchange helps us understand the thinking behind the huge grassroots protest vote that is propelling Zuma towards the presidency.

To catch Through the Eye of a Needle at one of our public screenings, or to purchase a DVD copy, visit The film will also be viewable online at this website very soon


  • Ben Cashdan

    Ben Cashdan is a filmmaker and television producer based in Johannesburg.