Watching the ANC over the last few years has like been watching an air crash in slow motion; this week’s extended NEC meeting was typical. Much revving of engines, debating of new routes, and “robust discussion” of a medical sabbatical for the pilot. But in the end, the old plane was trundled back into the hangar, weaker and more tarnished than before. When Air ANC first took to the skies it was shiny, new, soaring to heights never dreamed of, landing safely during global turmoil; it had a charismatic pilot, and there was hardly a hailstorm or a lightning strike in sight. But now….
Before diving for the airsick bag, grab the in-flight magazine for some celebrity gossip. During the three day crisis meeting of the ANC NEC, one juicy titbit leaked out. Apparently Nathi Mthethwa and Bheki Cele almost came to blows. The irony of two deposed police ministers, both political appointees, both sworn to ensure our nation’s safety, both replaced for incompetence and “short cuts”, hurling abuse across the room is too fantastic for an airport thriller.
Let’s stick with the aeroplane analogy, seeing as it is a good symbol of the ANC dilemma, what with the Guptas’ preferential landing rights, the Presidential Plane grounded, and SAA nose diving. A successful political party is much like a huge airliner. It first has to be designed, built, and bought. Then it has to be serviced, fueled by experienced ground staff, cleared by air traffic control, loaded with passengers, and competently crewed with a pilot, first officer etc. And if all that is working, the most important day-to-day issue that this BIG team faces is the destination, the route and the weather. The ANC is an old jet, burning up outdated fuel, losing altitude, losing passengers, desperate for a change of pilots, uncertain of its destination, and it is about to enter the worst weather front it has encountered since it started flying solo.
And the VIPs who are in charge of Air ANC are clearly divided about which side of the plane to sit on. As an outsider it is easy to over-simplify it down to Port Side – passengers terrified to change the status quo for various reasons, and on the Starboard Wing those who want major changes, starting with the pilot. There are 101 reasons why those 101 people from the NEC find themselves on opposite sides of the airport lounge.
Probably the one value they will say they share is that they are members of the Air ANC loyalty programme.
But that is where the consensus ends. Because the two parties, and despite this being labeled as an ANC NEC meeting, let’s not be fooled, this was a meeting of two seriously divided parties with very different ideas of what the ANC is, where it should be going, and how it should be getting there. So whoever ultimately ends up behind the controls of this powerful engine will have to try to keep it from going into a tail spin with one engine in reverse.
The depth of the structural damage to the party will only emerge over time. Most pundits seem to think that the ANC will have a bounce at the polls when (not if) Zuma is gone. The ANC will definitely have a quick bounce in the opinion polls, but will that translate into a bounce at the ballot box in 2019? Possibly, but only if the new pilot, the crew and the passengers all agree on the destination, the need for major structural repairs and a thorough retraining of its staff. This is a flight into the unknown, and a bunch of brawlers all wanting upgrades to business class and unhappy with their neighbours across the aisle are not going to make for a smooth ride.
And exactly what refreshments are the crew going to be serving, and what will the passengers choose? “Would you like the party favourite – More Punch in Your Pocket?” or “An Old Fashioned – a fading fantasy from a by-gone era?” or “A Knock-Out – wake up to an unrecognisable future?” or “A Blow-Job – it feels so good you want it to last forever, but it never does?” (I am reliably informed by my children that this is in fact a real cocktail.) Or “Would you like to chew on a stale sandwich, with a filling of insincere unity?”
And up in the cockpit? Who will be the pilot? Co-pilot? Navigator? Cabin controller? And as for Air Traffic Control? How do they turn the plane around until it is headed once more in the right direction? How do they keep it fueled when the source of power is drying up? And how do they keep it stable – if half the passengers don’t like the destination and want to rush the cockpit?
The one advantage Air ANC has is that its staff is experienced and in a crash situation that can make the difference between life and death. They certainly have a pilot who does not scare easily, and seems to have a very tight grip on the controls, even if he seems to be deliberately flying into a hurricane. So the passengers have pulled down the window blinds in the hope that when they have to raise them again the problems will have disappeared en route.
But the real problem is not who steers the plane, or what route to take; it is this: How badly is the aircraft damaged? And poor old Air ANC – the fuselage is tired and creaking, the landing gear is close to breaking point, and the political radar has gone on the fritz. So, make no mistake, there is going to be a crash. If they are lucky the plane may sink safely down into a marsh, lose its wheels and the fuselage might just split neatly down the middle. But it may also smack into a mountainside and this vast machine could explode into a hundred little fragments that burn.
This is going to test the skill of everyone on board like never before. There’s stormy weather ahead, competition in the cockpit, a lot of excess baggage in the hold, and much insecurity and anger among the passengers. Welcome aboard Air ANC, and please enjoy the flight, even if we don’t know where we are headed. DM