South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has appealed to his ancestors to help him hold on to the leadership of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
Mr Zuma attended a ceremony at his village on Sunday, where 12 cattle were slaughtered and incense burnt as people prayed for his re-election.
His opponents are pushing for him to be ousted as ANC leader at the party’s conference next month.
Mr Zuma, a polygamist with 21 children, is a well-known Zulu traditionalist.
He beat his predecessor Thabo Mbeki in a bitterly contested election in 2007 for the leadership of the ANC.
Spear and shield
He later forced Mr Mbeki to resign as South Africa’s president, installing Kgalema Motlanthe as caretaker leader until the 2009 general election, when he took power.
The ANC’s influential youth wing and several government ministers are now campaigning for Mr Motlanthe, the deputy president, to run against Mr Zuma at the ANC conference in Mangaung next month.
The Zuma family slaughtered 12 cattle and burnt incense at a traditional ceremony at their village in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province on Sunday to appeal to the ancestors to guide him ahead of the elections.
“We are here to give our father a send-off to Mangaung. With this ceremony we are now sure he is protected and he will come back to celebrate with us,” Nomthandazo Zuma is quoted by South Africa’s The Mercury newspaper as saying.
Traditional leader Inkosi Bheki Zuma gave the president, who was dressed in leopard skins, a Zulu spear and shield and told him to use the weapons to protect himself from his ANC opponents, the newspaper reports.
Mr Zuma has been dogged by corruption allegations throughout his term, but he is expected to be re-elected as ANC leader, analysts say.
South Africa’s Auditor-General Terence Nombembe and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela are investigating whether taxpayers’ money has been improperly used to upgrade Mr Zuma’s residential complex in Nkandla, reportedly at a cost of about $27m (£17m).
It includes chalets, a security bunker, and bulletproof windows.
Earlier this month, Mr Zuma – who has four wives and 21 children – said he taken out a mortgage to pay for the renovations and he objected to being “convicted, painted black, called the first-class corrupt man, on facts that are not tested”.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped corruption charges against Mr Zuma shortly before his election as president in 2009.
He was accused of taking bribes from an arms company and his financial adviser Schabir Shaik – allegations he strongly denied.
Earlier this year, Mr Zuma’s government unveiled The Traditional Courts Bill which would allow local chiefs to act as judge, prosecutor and mediator, with no legal representation and no right of appeal in certain cases.
It has been widely criticised for being unconstitutional, especially by women’s groups, which argue it would take South Africa “back to the dark ages”.
But Mr Zuma says the legislation will help “solve African problems the African way, not the white man’s way”.