Day one of the ANC’s conference in the Nasrec Expo Centre left the glass both half empty and half full for supporters of President Jacob Zuma, when the G-word was said for all to hear. At the same time, it left Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s stronghold badly divided. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
Just after 4pm on the first day of the ANC’s national policy conference on Friday, ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini’s phone fired off a Whatsapp message featuring a campaign flyer for former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. In large writing it said: “Checkmate”, and featured a picture of Dlamini-Zuma superimposed on a large raised fist. There is also a brief CV on there, in point form, from her deputy presidency of the South African Students’ Organisation in 1976 to the AU. Right at the bottom, next to a woman’s league logo: “Victory in OuR wOMAN” (sic).
But it wasn’t quite clear what the victory was about.
In a delegates-only session in the conference hall at the time, the war was still very much on for her supporters.
They were on the losing side of a battle to block Secretary General Gwede Mantashe from presenting an unusual report on the troubles that beset the party. The title of his report read like an opinion, preceded by an indefinite article – “A Diagnostic Organisational Report” – and it didn’t beat around the bush over the problems in the party, although it sounded a little different to Zuma’s diagnosis in his opening speech earlier in the day.
In fact, the diagnostic report read like a horror story, listing twelve problem points that ranged from people’s falling trust in the ANC to comrades not trusting each other, poor quality in the branches and membership in general, a decline in ethics and ideological outlook, and a failure to focus on solutions.
It was point six, headed: “The ANC perceived as inherently corrupt”, that had the Dlamini-Zuma camp fuming. It starts by breaking down President Jacob Zuma’s classic defence for his friendship with the Guptas, saying ANC leaders in government “have no private life”. They should be accountable for everything they do.
The Gupta example was used. “The temptation is to regard [discussions about the Guptas being too influential in state decisions] as an invasion of privacy and tempering (sic) with personal relations… However, their relationships with the families of prominent leaders attract the attention of the people.”
To underline the seriousness of the matter, both the Public Protector and the South African Council of Churches investigated the matter.
Then it slammed the Zuma camp for linking state capture to a real problem faced by the party, namely “regime change” (what those in a democracy would refer to as a defeat for the party at the polls).
“Linking regime change to state capture reflects the decline in our analytical capacity. The series of emails that are released in tranches each day cause more harm to our movement.”
It also asked comrades to please explain their relationship with the Gupta family – some ministers have already done so, but Zuma, for one, has so far been hiding behind the privacy defence.
In a separate point, it slams the “White Monopoly Capital” (WMC) narrative, saying WMC’s existed all along and, by implying current corruption is okay because the apartheid guys did it too, is to use “the lowest common denominator by comparing revolutionaries to the Apartheid state”. In fact, WMC is what the ANC aims to defeat, not compete with or out-do.
Back in the conference hall, 3000 or so delegates were locked in battle, – Dlamini-Zuma’s so-called Premier League provinces against Ramaphosa’s supporters. Mpumalanga, the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal – provinces that, together with North West, sang pro-Zuma songs with lyrics such as “now is the time to rise” during the conference opening session earlier – didn’t want Mantashe to present his report in the conference hall at all.
The argument was that it’s a policy conference and not the place for organisational reports – these belong to normal conferences and national general councils.
The counter-argument was, however, that two days were added on to the policy conference to discuss organisational issues. This comes after stalwarts and veterans asked for a consultative conference, but after a spat with party leadership, and after wanting to present their own report, the ANC took back control. This report was the result. (Was Zuma’s vicious attack on the stalwarts during his opening speech an indication that he felt Mantashe’s report was a victory of sorts for them?)
Mail and Guardian reported that Mpumalanga led the charge to block Mantashe’s presentation, but withdrew when they found themselves defeated. The report was met with loud applause, it reported.
While Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters were not celebrating last night – the lack of uproarious enthusiasm for their candidate was already evident by the lacklustre sing-song at the opening – they reckon Ramaphosa’s war is far from won.
Friday’s closed session exposed deep divisions in his own province, according to a delegate in attendance. Limpopo was highly divided, so much so that deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte had to tell the provincial executive committee to caucus and resolve their issues rather than contradict each other openly on the conference floor.
Part of Limpopo, as well as the Gauteng and Eastern Cape provinces were adamant that the report should be read.
Western Cape, which Ramaphosa was also bargaining on, was also divided (80-20 in his favour, the Dlamini-Zuma camp says).
So, with the opening salvos fired and the stage set, two days of deliberations on organisational problems and another three on policy issues are about to begin.
Another delegate said the divisions between the two camps were very even – say, 51% versus 49% – and the real purpose of the conference is to see which one can make the scales tip in their favour. (Although, in 2012 former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe’s camp won the policy conference, but lost the war in Mangaung.)
Mantashe at a press conference on Friday night said the ANC was leaving the Gupta issue to government to deal with – in the form of a supposedly impartial and credible judicial commission of inquiry – because it could not deal with it themselves.
He must, however, know full well that the commission, to be appointed by Zuma, could be a whitewash like Judge Willie Seriti’s arms deal inquiry. Has Mantashe already thought up a strategy for the party to deal with this, but keeping his hand hidden for now? One hint is that there could be another battle this weekend about the integrity commission, which was established at the last policy conference but which has had little success to date.
Either way, day one felt like the record number of 1500 accredited journalists got ring-side seats to an obscene form of extreme ANC navel-gazing. What we’re waiting for now is to see when, and not if, the beast will eat itself. DM
Photo: Delegates sing songs as they arrive for the ANC’s 5th National Policy Conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, June 30, 2017. Photo: Ihsaan Haffejee