SACP conference: Kgalema Motlanthe, the entertainer

By Sipho Hlongwane 16 July 2012

There’s a lot we don’t know about Kgalema Motlanthe, especially as far as the ANC’s Mangaung conference is concerned. But we do know now that he can deliver some sharp truths to the communists as a dinner speaker, while making them roar with laughter. Good trick, that. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

So here’s the scene: we are at the Durban International Convention Centre. It is a “gala dinner” hosted by the South African Communist Party. The purpose is to raise money. The hall is about half full – and that’s also counting the staff and the motley crew of journalists in various stages of fashion disrepair.

The Durban upper crust (Vivian Reddy, a daughter of the king of the Zulus, et cetera) stare dully at the stage as a jazz band – you know the type, they try to emulate Sade with degrees of success varying from impressive to horrifying – squawks away. Here and there, a Cabinet minister sits.

We’re here to hear what the main speaker, SA and ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, will say to the SACP after it has been widely reported that he has spent the last two weeks suggesting they weren’t the sharpest tool in the shed anymore. We want to see if he’ll do it again – this time to their faces.

Motlanthe enters and, shockingly, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande is not in the room. Nor are his deputies Jeremy Cronin and Solly Mapaila. Erm, this is supposed to be their gala dinner? Where are they? New national chairman Senzeni Zokwana tells us all that Nzimande has been sent to bed. He’s exhausted. Cronin is still at the University of Zululand, debating politics with delegates to the 13th national congress. Right, then.

Motlanthe gets up to speak. And yes, indeed, he does call the SACP the little brother to the ANC’s older brother! Just in case I am accused of misquoting the deputy president, here is his analogy in full (it gets gnarly in places):

“Because the relationship between the SACP and the ANC is and has always been familial, it can be best described as that of siblings; brothers – the ANC being the elder brother while the SACP is the younger brother. But before you jump out of your skins about this comparison, thinking I am elevating the ANC at the expense of the party, I must forewarn you that despite the age difference, matters between the two brothers did not turn out in accordance with these expectations.

“In the nature of things, the elder brother is invariably expected to identify and recognise the physical and social world way before the younger one. Inversely, the younger brother is expected to learn the basics of life from the older brother, mimicking him and following in his footsteps.

“Yet if by any chance the younger brother comes into an advanced training and education environment that the older brother could not access, he is likely to show a precocious mind which grasps intricate matters far beyond the usual limitations of his age,” Motlanthe said.

He also uses an example of the relationship between humanity and nature, and, by this time, the radio journalists looking for a concise quote are cursing bitterly under their breaths.

But, despite being the older brother in the relationship (with all the trappings that come with that), Motlanthe assures the SACP that the ANC does not have a superiority complex. Stalwarts from years gone by, like Moses Kotane, are proof that the SACP is the one that teaches the ANC.

“Having benefited from the SACP, we in the ANC continue to regard the SACP as a reliable ally capable of analysing the challenges of today as well as producing theoretical clarity on how to tackle them,” he says.

So there you have it – the ANC is happy that the SACP continues to play the role of consultants to them. And since they’re the younger brother, less experienced in the physical and social world, they’re not exactly expected to do the heavy lifting around here. Get where Motlanthe is going with this?

Then we have the wonderfully bizarre sight of the deputy president of South Africa retelling the story of the Bell’s whisky advertisement, much to the mirth of the dinner guests. No, really.

What is the point of the story? Well, it will obviously look lame if I attempt to explain it here. One does not repeat a great comedian’s jokes, after all.

“We are gathered here for two purposes, firstly to raise funds in support of the SACP and secondly, to do justice to the eatables.” See what I mean by comedian? The food was terrible.  “With regards to the first purpose and this alone I say with the entire conviction of the truth – give that party money!”

The next day we asked Nzimande why he’s missed the deputy president’s stand-up routine. He said he was too exhausted to travel to Durban. Which made sense – Nzimande has been in hospital recently, and didn’t look too sturdy during the conference. And it’s a 180km trip to Durban from Empangeni, where the SACP was meeting. But then, who came up with that idea? How was that for a joke? DM


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