Meanings at Mangaung

2012-12-18 16:27

Walking to the media centre this morning, I spotted Trevor Manuel driving past in an extremely modest little car. Bully for him, I thought. A potent statement against so much we object to in the current crop of ANC leaders. The dominant mode of travel for ANC VIPs here is still the chauffered luxury SUV. Unlike Polokwane, though, they don't use the flashing blue lights and they don't hoot at delegates who get in their way.

Much of the message emanating from Mangaung is, like Manuel's choice of transport, non-verbal. On the way into the big tent at lunchtime to hear the election results, dancing, singing Zuma supporters brandished the two-fingered salute (palms facing out) to indicate they wanted Zuma to have a second term. When the election results were read out, showing the landslide victory of the Zuma slate, they came up with a new sign: first the rolling "we want change" one followed by both arms thrown out, showing empty hands. The message was: "Change didn't happen."

The ANC must give some credit to Gauteng, the region which drove the Motlanthe camp. In keeping with their resolve to monopolise the moral high ground, they instructed their followers not to counter Zuma songs with their own, to avoid the volatile sing-offs from the Mbeki and Zuma camps that rendered parts of the Polokwane conference chaotic.

It's difficult to describe how powerful is this mass singing in the sweaty claustrophobic confines of the big tent where all 4,500-odd delegates plus a couple of hundred journalists and foreign dignatories are clustered. It engages you on an entirely different level to the cerebral stuff going on on the stage.  One of the flashes of brilliance I've seen in the past couple of days has been Zuma's soaring into song at the start of his opening speech. Until he opened his mouth, the mood in the tent was explosive with tension and conflict. It was so unexpected: in this highly formal setting, with foreign ambassadors and business leaders in the audience. And all the hostility that has built up around the man because of his abuse of public funds and shifting morality.  Then this moment of beauty: his voice full of passion and feeling so that it seemed to encompass every emotion in the tent - the anger, the sorrow, the hope, the fear. All seemed to be acknowledged and felt by him so that by the end, thousands of voices were singing with him, all now in tune.

And, of course, his choice of song was equally astute: it was in praise of Mandela, the one leader we all love and revere.

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