Earth to Zuma, were you there?

2012-07-04 08:42

I could not hide my astonishment last Friday night, when president Jacob Zuma congratulated delegates at the ANC policy conference for their “exceptional conduct”.

Was he there two hours earlier, I wondered, when delegates started fighting during a discussion about nationalization – sommer right there as they were queuing up at the microphone to say their piece?

But we are told he left the hall as the scuffle broke out, because he had to go “fetch his speech” in the holding room outside hall three at Gallagher Estate.

So maybe he missed it.

But did he also miss it when plastic water bottles flew across the room as delegates got angry at each other’s views and verbal sparring had reached its limits?

Maybe he missed that too, taking a phone call outside perhaps, the hall can get quite noisy.

And maybe he didn’t hear when, earlier that day, delegates took to the single paved street that runs through Gallagher Estate and had a sing-off. One group was waving two fingers in the air, signaling a second term for Zuma, while the other group was singing about change, rolling their arms in the well-known substitution sign in soccer. They showed they wanted deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe to take over as ANC president.

All this is completely against ANC rules.

After the disciplinary nightmare that was expelled youth leader Julius Malema, Zuma was at pains to explain no further deviation from the discipline hymn sheet will be tolerated. During his opening speech at the conference he gave the Veterans’ League a look that scared even me. He said: “I will look you in the face and tell you [don’t get involved in factional fighting].”

He was referring to the League apparently making noises that they don’t want him, and Zuma was having none of it – elders must be seen, not heard, he believes.

So in my naivety I thought Zuma was for real, discipline was the name of this conference game.

Come Friday night, that view was something of the past. For Zuma to glibly congratulate delegates for good behaviour was turning a blind eye to what actually happened. And as any parent will know, ignoring bad behaviour can be an invitation to more bad behaviour.

Zuma’s lieutenants were quick to tell us these things happened at ANC conferences all the time and we exaggerated what it all meant.

To me it’s very clear, someone who’s in charge is simply that – in charge. Their people step into line, they know the boundaries and they do not dare cross them. They know if they do they’ll face consequences.

Kwazulu Natal leader Wandile Mkhize died this weekend shortly after he sent a text message to sports minister Fikile Mbalula, warning him “Mangaung will be worse than Polokwane”.

Mkhize spoke of the need to bring people together, and he promised that he will try and get Zuma to the negotiating table.

Will Zuma come to the same conclusion as Mkhize did? Or was that initial bravado at the start of the conference only a momentary flash, fuelled by the confidence only a cabinet reshuffle can bring?

Will he understand that South Africa cannot afford a Mangaung that is worse than Polokwane? Or will we see a Manguang where he comes out victorious and thanks his supporters for their exceptional conduct, even with the broken pieces all over the conference floor?


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