ANC conference kicks off with battle of the songs

ECape delegation makes substitution motion to larger group from KZN, NWest, Mpumulanga and Limpopo

Johannesburg - The first day of the ANC's much anticipated policy conference kicked off with a battle of songs between the Eastern Cape and a much larger group, made up of several provinces, which tried to drown out their call for a "change".

It all began with various groups entering the Nasrec Expo Centre’s hall six, singing traditional songs from the party’s liberation days - " Oliver Tambo bamb’isandla sam (Oliver Tambo hold my hand)" and " ANC kuzo lawula wena, nalapha kuzo lawula wena (ANC you will rule, even here you will rule)".

However, as more and more groups started to fill the hall, songs celebrating current particular leaders could be heard from the different regions.

The North West group sang a song praising its premier, Supra Mahumapelo - " silamulele Supra (Help us Supra)" - while a louder, larger group on the other side of the hall began singing " Zuma, Zuma wethu ".

The Eastern Cape branch then began singing " Thuma mina Oliver Tambo, siyababona bayoyika (Send me Oliver Tambo, we can see that these ones are scared)".

While singing this, the group made soccer gestures with their hands, signalling a change was needed, and began moving towards the large pro-Zuma group from KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and the Women’s League.

'We want songs to unite, not to hurt'

The larger crowd hit back at the Eastern Cape group, singing " Sitjele ukuthi uZuma wenzeni (Tell us what Zuma has done?)".

The battle to out-sing each other then moved closer to the stage, where President Jacob Zuma was set to give the opening address.

As they tried to out-sing one another, leaders of the party - including Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma - rose to their feet to sing along, awkwardly. Eventually, the Eastern Cape group was overpowered by the larger group, which marched and sang in their direction, pushing the smaller group back to their seats.On Thursday, secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters that the 5 000 conference delegates would not be allowed to sing divisive songs or cast aspersions on any current leader.

He said songs that hurt the feelings of individuals would not be allowed.

"We know established songs of the movement; we will not tamper with them because there is a conference. But we will tamper with new songs that are intended to hurt the feelings of our leaders. We want songs to unite, not to hurt."

'We are not complete'

The conference gets underway amidst divisions over a fiercely contested leadership race between Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and NEC member Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as well as calls for Zuma to step down.

Shortly before Zuma's opening address got underway, a large segment of delegates began singing " Asiphelelanga. Kushoda umnotho, awukho la. Hayi hayi asiphelelanga (We are not complete, we still need the economy, it's not here. No. No. We are not complete)".

A heated debate is expected at the conference, with party factions arguing over the definition of radical economic transformation and whether the domination of capital should be racially defined.

Mantashe said the country's current economic crisis would take centre stage, so that swift action could be taken to mitigate any further damage.

South Africa is in a technical recession, its unemployment rate is at a 14-year high, it has suffered junk status downgrades by three ratings agencies and, on top of that, it faces potential interest rate and electricity price hikes.

This spell of gloomy news also follows growing tension between government and business since Zuma gave respected former finance minister Pravin Gordhan his marching orders.