Tuesday, 18 December 2012, is a date Jacob Zuma will probably never forget. And nor will I, being one of the privileged outsiders allowed into the plenary tent for the announcement of the ANC Top Six. Here is my tale of inspiration and desperation from the event.
The first thing that greets you as you cross from the outside world into the plenary tent of Narnia, is the wall of heat generated from the thronging masses of provincial delegates. Moments before, I’d spotted service technicians pumping litres of gas into air-conditioning units in what seemed a fruitless exercise. The sweat poured off our brows as we scrambled for seats in the allocated media seating area, ahead of Msholozi’s grandiose entrance. The atmosphere: electric.
I’ve come to realise that being a non-member of the ANC inside the plenary tent for the occasion is a privileged experience that will stay etched in my memory forever. It also gave me a newfound perspective of the party, whose politics and people had previously only played out in the parallel world of newspapers, web pages and television screens.
Even with the most predictable set of results for the Top Six in recent memory, the congress of delegates were chanting and dancing in the aisles, their energy raising the tented roof. And their euphoria was contagious, regardless of one’s political affiliation. Words struggle to do the experience the justice as one by one the six most powerful politicians in the country took to the stage amid the raptures of an electorate who had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Zuma slate.
To see the ANC’s heart beating before one’s eyes is quite mesmerising and left me in awe of the party in a way I found quite surprising. It’s only then I got a true appreciation for the power this party commands in the mad hatter world of South African politics, a breakaway from the countless scandals and naysaying that had dominated the media coverage of the ruling party. Thousands of party representatives in a confined space, ready to welcome in a new era of their chosen one.
Following the announcements, celebrations meandered outside the tent with sporadic groups of branch delegates breaking into an impromptu swaying and singing that us white folk could only hope to emulate. The lawns of the University of the Free State were awash with jiving black, green and gold colours of the ANC. Witnessing these scenes, you begin to understand how the ANC truly does come from greatness, having fought so long and selflessly to liberate a nation from tyranny.
I have never being a card-carrying member of any political party and most likely will never be, but at that point, romanticism fuelled by emotions got me thinking. Being part of movement that can harness such passion and power, that can shape a country’s destiny, certainly has its appeal. For all the naysaying, the ANC has delivered on some of its promises to the people, but none greater than the freedom that allowed it’s 53rd conference to be held in the middle of Bloemfontein. This behemoth of an organisation can make a real difference to the people who need it most in the country. It has the resources, the skills and the talent at its disposal.
But if anything could scupper the stirrings of my political ambitions, it was the sight emanating from just beyond the dancing delegates, where queues of Range Rovers and BMW’s lined up to carry the party’s elite to some high- browed luncheon, away from the revelling commoners. Needless to say, my inspiration was short-lived.
For all its previous glory and grandeur as a liberation movement, the ANC has struggled as a ruling party, let alone a functional government. A point made so eloquently by former New York Times editor, Bill Keller albeit a little too politely. In his piece, Keller calls South Africa “a blessed and abused country”. Abused by the former Apartheid regime and now abused by the ANC. With all that power at its disposal, the ANC, like so many other freedom movements once united against a common oppressor, has become divided by a multitude of ideals and principles at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. The socio-political differences which were once secondary to the walk to freedom, are now obvious for all to see.
Instead of marshalling South Africa to the heights we know it can achieve, our municipalities, our pupils and our treasuries are being dragged through the sewerage by those abusing the power of ANC. Corruption, fraud and an arrogant sense of entitlement that permeates the upper echelon of the party means things are likely to get worse before we hit absolute rock bottom and things can get better. By worse I mean the continued raping of the country and its resources, and by better I mean a change in ANC leadership. When enough hope has been destroyed and the laurels of liberation have been forgotten, maybe then we will see the change the ANC needs to embrace.
Imagine an intensely powerful Top Six working together for the greater good of the nation, rather than cadre gain. Imagine a national executive committee of 80 inspired by true leader of the nation. Imagine 4,500 branch delegates running functional municipalities and harnessing the efforts of 1,2 million members. Imagine what we could achieve.
Leaving Mangaung, I know I will be a more informed and more concerned citizen. For South Africa to prosper, to be more than just a resource-laden token appointment to BRICS, to be a continental superpower, to be the country we deserve, we need the ANC. Just not in its current state. DM
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With a high-school prize for best supporting actor in a one-act play and as captain of the chess team, Charalambous qualified to join the esteemed ranks of the Daily Maverick opinionistas. He now resides in Cape Town, working in media and irritating the old guard of the South African rugby with some liberal thinking.
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