No amount of champagne, cakes or booze-fuelled parties can mask the reality of the what the ANC has become.
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A while ago, the following statement was uttered: “We are of the firm view that, if the old guard at the helm of the organisation do not change their attitudes and the manner in which they conduct themselves, they will go down as a generation that liquidated the ANC and took the precious legacy of president Oliver Tambo into the dustbins of history.”
Who said this? Was it Makhosi Khoza? Was it Solly Mapaila? Was it Sipho Pityana? Were they referring to the old guard’s terrible tolerance of state capture? Were they referring to the rot eating away at the ANC? Were they referring to factionalism ripping the party’s structures apart?
Surprisingly, the authors of the above statement were the leaders of the ANC Youth League, the archdefenders of state capture and beneficiaries of the practice. And their target? The very people who oppose state capture and the rot in the party.
So now you are probably scratching your head and asking how fighting state capture and stopping the rot in the ANC equate to taking “the precious legacy of president Oliver Tambo into the dustbins of history”. Well, these are weird times in which warped logic parades as wisdom.
And things are going to get weirder and even more warped as South Africa accelerates towards the month of December. This will be a period in which Christmas will not just be dominated by collegial groping and generally wild behaviour – these standard practices will be interrupted by deep discussions on the ANC leadership race. Instead of using alcohol-induced courage to finally approach Refiloe from finance, Tom from marketing will instead be locked in a huddle arguing about the various acronyms that have been adopted by the camps.
Out there in the structures of the ANC, where the battle will be under way, warped logic will most likely give way to aberrant behaviour, as it has done for quite some time now. Between now and December, the heat will be desert level. Enmities between comrades who swear by the same colours and worship the same heroes will intensify into deep and open hatred. Do not rule out gunfire and stab wounds.
Ever more, you are hearing ANC insiders speak fearfully about what was previously deemed impossible – the unprecedented collapse of the ANC national conference. This would be calamitous because, since its unbanning in 1990, the ANC has religiously held its conferences, general councils and policy conferences at the allotted intervals. This was regardless of tensions and the fierceness of contestation.
In Durban in 1991, the exile-internal dynamic and the sibling rivalry between Chris Hani and Thabo Mbeki hung over the conference. But the show went on.
In Bloemfontein in 1994, the main battle was waged over who would be elected as deputy president and thus be positioned to take over from Nelson Mandela at the 1997 conference – Mbeki or Cyril Ramaphosa. In the end, Mbeki won without a single shot being fired. Three years later, in Mahikeng, what Mbeki hoped would be a smooth coronation was marred by bitter contestations for some other top-six positions.
Even in the most fraught conferences – Polokwane and Mangaung – there was never the fear that the conference would collapse because of rivalries.
But this year, a collapse at the conference is being treated as a reality. So much so that Sthembiso Mshengu, an ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal associated with the so-called rebel group, warned that the behaviour of the province’s leadership was giving credence to the talk of plots to sabotage the conference.
Speaking after the provincial executive committee decided to defy the national executive committee and unilaterally lodge an appeal against a high court ruling that it was illegitimate, Mshengu warned us about the desperation.
“In fact, we do suspect that there is even a plan to disrupt the national conference itself. I’m not an alarmist, but the behaviour and conduct points in that direction,” he said.
And why would anybody go to such desperate lengths to sabotage their own party congress? The story goes that there is one stream of the ANC that believed that it had an unassailable lead in the race and that its candidate would only have to turn up in December to take the mantle. The perception certainly was widespread, as the public witnessed the candidate speaking at up to three rallies a week.
Then came the June national policy conference, which was, in effect, a proxy for the positions of the various groupings and a chance to test strength. It became apparent there that, with six months to go, things were not as they seemed. Defeat after defeat indicated that the “dominant group” did not necessarily have the numbers it believed it had. This was when, the story goes, discussions began about not allowing the conference to proceed if they were not sure of the outcome.
Such a collapse or such sabotage would take the form of frustrating the branch nomination and delegate selection processes in such as way that it would become logistically impossible to convene in December.
Another option would be to filibuster on the certification of the delegates on the eve of the conference. That way, no conference business would start and everyone would eventually pack their bags and head home.
While this may sound “alarmist” and fanciful, it is nevertheless a fear that is being taken seriously in many quarters.
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