Plodding to our doom

Andrew Donaldson asks where the joie de vivre is in the ANC's leadership battle


IT may be just us, here at the Mahogany Ridge, but it does appear that the sparkle and fizz, the joie de vivre, that characterised the run-up to Mangaung in 2012 and Polokwane in 2007 is wholly absent from the ruling party’s elective conference this time round. 

True, it is still early days, and the court ruling in Bloemfontein on Wednesday declaring 29 Free State ANC branch meetings unlawful, irregular and unconstitutional, thus throwing the province’s elective procedures in dispute, is a sure sign that a lot can still happen between now and December 16 when delegates gather in Gauteng to ruin the festive season.

Make no mistake, the outcome of the tussle between Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa will be of consequence. On the one hand, the country may be condemned to a fate worse than death. On the other, it could be a fate even worse than a fate worse than death.

But where is the sense of occasion? Where is the song and dance? The silly clothes and and beer boeps in camouflage? Where are the irony-free moments in which blessers drive around in luxury German cars adorned with slogans that remind the people of the party’s devotion to selfless struggle?

So far, all we’ve seen is a photograph doing the rounds on social media of an anonymous comrade sporting an ANC-branded golf shirt with the legend: “The gallant fighters of our struggly for libaration.” And just how (sic) is that?

But, this being a gilded era for fake news and what have you, it turns out that this is an old picture, of unknown provenance, and it did the rounds this time last year as well. 

There is a suggestion from some of the regulars that the triumphalism and profligacy of previous gatherings will now be absent for the simple reason that the conference is going to be such a bitterly contested and grim affair — a funeral, even, for there is talk that the party that would rule until the second coming of Christ is on its last legs. 

Earlier this year, political analyst Somadoda Fikeni, a consultant at the Human Sciences Research Council, told radio listeners that liberation movements tend to have a period of 20 to 25 years in which they can safely fall back on what could be termed their “struggle credentials”.

Which is about right for the ANC. The results of this week’s hotly-contested Metsimaholo by-election in the Free State, in which the party won less than 30% of the vote, suggests the haemorrhaging of support is now something of a flood.

Little wonder, then, that government members seem so miserable. Though clearly contemptuous of Parliament, it’s entirely understandable that ministers threw sickies this week rather than face further questions from MPs investigating state capture.

Not to be churlish, but this spate of ill-health is a worrying trend. Dr Makgabo Manamela had a touch of it last week, excusing herself from the hearings into the Life Esidemni tragedy. Whatever it was it seemed serious; judging by her subsequent performance at the proceedings, it would appear she hadn’t fully recovered and was still suffering delusional fits.

Pray, then, that Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane get better soon. Perhaps they will be strong enough to raise spirits at the conference.

There is considerable opinion in the ranks of the opposition that it’s not going to go Cyril’s way in Gauteng. In fact, they’re hoping that this will be the case as it strengthens their hand immeasurably for the 2019 elections.

Some conspiracy theorists argue that the “leadership” race is a bit of a Potemkin farce, a diversion to mask the fact that, as far as Mini-Zuma’s concerned, the leadership’s hers for the taking. Why? Simply because it’s what her ex-husband wants, and what Accused Number One wants, he gets.

They also point to the fact that Ramaphosa’s running mate, Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, is an indication that he’s not serious about leading the party. 

Pandor is largely scandal-free. But such things mean little in the ANC. What counts against her — and Ramaphosa should surely know this — is that she is a “clever”, has a plummy accent many of her colleagues find funny, and resembles the Caterpillar from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

Mini-Zuma, on the other hand, has the backing of all the Zuptacrats, including a resurgent Carl Niehaus, spokesman for the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans’ Association and all-round berk.

Ordinarily, you’d get a court order barring the likes of Niehaus from your political campaign. But then again, this is no ordinary business. The struggly continny.

A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.