The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has chosen a rural area on KwaZulu-Natal’s lower south coast to hold a meeting with its supporters ahead of the polls.
The road is narrow with large craters every now and then; cars stir up a film of red dry sand.
The air is fresh and clean.
The venue of the meeting place is an old dilapidated hall which seemingly was abandoned mid-construction.
There are now windows in the frames, the sun shines through holes in the corrugated sheets which make up the roof, and the walls with peeling paint have been vandalised with random words.
“Samland’ uZuma, sam phos’ olwandleni, sathi hamba Zuma ukwehlulile umsebenzi (we took [Jacob] Zuma and threw him into the ocean and told him: ‘Go Zuma, you have failed at your job’),” a group of energetic young men sing, warming up those who have gathered ahead of the meeting now running almost two hours late.
The song is a play of the words sung by the ANC which goes “samthath’ uZuma sam’ bek’ eLuthuli, sathi mfo kaMsholozi uzus’phathe ngoxolo”, which loosely translates to: “We are responsible for putting Zuma in Luthuli house. We asked him to bring peace among us.”
There is an attempt to beautify the space with posters boasting the electoral slogan “sethembe” (trust us), along with flags bearing the face of founder and lifetime leader IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
In 2017 Buthelezi had announced – not for the first time since his reign – that he would be stepping down but later reneged on that, saying that the party had urged the 90-year-old to stick around.
The leader himself is not attending this meeting as he is on the campaign trail north of the country in Limpopo. The reverence for him is anything but absent.
“Sihole (lead us),” a man on the microphone shouts to which the group responds: “Shenge (Buthelezi’s clan name).”
A regional leader is given the chance to greet the group and he tells them to prepare to be vigilant.
“The ANC looks quiet but they are busy plotting how to steal the election and manipulate the voters’ roll,” he says in isiZulu to loud cheers.
“There are the ballot papers which the IEC will distribute and then there are the ANC ones so we need to pick proper people to go and watch over our vote. We have no other enemy in politics, only the ANC. We are going to remove it come May 8.”
The IFP governed KwaZulu-Natal in the early 1990s – when the province teetered on the edge of a civil war – before the ANC displaced the party in 2004, making it the official opposition.
During the last general elections the IFP lost official opposition status to the Democratic Alliance, when it obtained 11% of the share of the vote in the province, which is its stronghold.
The party has showed signs of regaining some of the loss in the wake of the 2016 local government elections when it was able to lead some coalition governments.
As the meeting finally gets under way with a prayer and hymn, the crowd gets bigger and young children are yanked off the once white plastic chairs to make room for the grown-ups.
Refusing to leave, they sit closely together in groups of three or four on single chairs. The majority of those gathered seemingly are young people.
A number of speakers make a point that the ANC which governs Umzumbe has failed and that the IFP has been forced to dig into its own pockets to provide services to residents.
Therefore it is crucial for the IFP to take control of the area in the next local government elections.
When it is the turn of the deputy chairperson of the province, who is the last speaker of the day almost four hours later, he preaches in a gravelly voice about the importance of voting.
“There is nothing more important in a community than a voter. As a voter you put a government in power and you take them out and the cycle repeats itself,” he says.
“You have great power. There is no government that is elected without voters. You vote one day and wait five years to vote again. If you don’t vote correctly you will have to wait a whole five years to correct the mistake that you made in one day. Do not make a mistake, tell others as well.”
The meeting ends in a welcoming back ceremony of those who had left the party and have since seen the light, as they make their way to the stage, an inevitable scramble for white T-shirts with the logo of three elephants ensues.
“Iyaphi indlovu (what direction is the IFP taking)?” someone shouts in the excitement.
“Iyaphambili (we are moving forward),” the group responds.