Delegate Z must be watching in the wings at Nasrec, steaming, fuming, and wishing she still had a voice in South African politics. Knowing that if she did, she surely would be heard. Somewhere in the rafters of the expo centre where the ANC of 2017 is deciding on the ANC’s, the country’s, and our future, I imagine she hovers and seethes, helpless to intervene.
But Delegate Z’s voice is being heard, in strange ways, all these years after her own demise. It is as if, from the grave, she is yet able to have a hand in things, to play a silent yet – one hopes – deadly card in all of this. For Delegate Z still lives in the foundation that bears her name. And boy are they fighting, in her name, wherever they can, in the courts and through their voices in the media.
What would Delegate Z have made of outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma’s Political Report delivered to the 54th National Conference of the ANC? There were several utterances by Zuma that would have had her shuffling in her seat, putting her hand up to speak, all while chomping at the bit and frothing at the mouth.
When Zuma said, on Saturday at Nasrec: “Conference must thus reflect on the kind of parliamentary culture the ANC espouses and the kind of strategies and tactics to be used so that we do not permit counter-revolutionary tendencies in Parliament,” Delegate Z would not have been able to restrain herself from interjecting to say: “For goodness sake, you can’t be serious. The whole point of being in Parliament, even if you’re a lone voice for sanity, is to speak up and counter the forces of evil!”
When Delegate Z heard Zuma say: “We should also be mindful of the fact that the media is an active participant with vested interests rather than an impartial and fair observer on ANC organisational matters,” Delegate Z undoubtedly would have slammed her hand down on her desk and said: “The MEDIA! This is a democracy, sir! We need a free and unshackled media to keep us on the right path, to trip us up when we wander off from that path and to take us to task whenever and wherever we get it wrong. Which you, sir, do EVERY DAY! Vested interests MY FOOT. They are democracy’s WATCHDOG!”
At which Delegate Z would slump back in her seat and pour herself a gin, only to splutter it out when hearing Zuma say: “The mobilisation of the media against the country and the ANC from Johannesburg to London, New York and Washington DC has gained momentum in recent months. We need to reflect on how to communicate with our people in a climate where forces hostile to the ANC control the means and platforms of communication.”
“WHAT!” (Delegate Z might have said), “You control the media at your own peril, not theirs. You need to LISTEN to the media. It’s really simple if you could only see: Do the right thing and they will not need to fight you. QED. Oh and by the way, I would love to be able to fly over to America and sort that bloody Trump out!”
But Zuma would ignore Delegate Z and say instead: “Due to internal divisions and in pursuit of personal interests, some ANC members also actively use the media to fight personal battles against the ANC despite the fact that this damages the standing of the movement and the country internationally.”
“You mean,” Delegate Z might have said, “there are ANC members who don’t agree with what you and your government have wrought upon South Africa? Well, thank God there is some sanity left in your organisation, sir! You should reward them!”
She would begin to nod off but would sit bolt upright when she heard President Zuma begin to pontificate on matters very close to Delegate Z’s heart, and she would now find herself listening most attentively. Zuma was saying: “We appreciate the role that organs of civil society played in the struggle against apartheid and which they must indeed continue to play to build the South Africa of our dreams. We also welcome the role of non-governmental organisations.
“However, we have seen in the recent past the sporadic emergence of some civil society groupings that are mobilised on the basis of hostile opinions against the ANC. Some NGOs appear to exist merely to fight the ANC and the ANC government. They appear to be well-resourced and constantly take government to court to fight political battles.
“Other formations appear to exist to protect white privilege and in particular to ensure the maintenance of the unequal economic relations in society, while pretending to be protecting the interests of our people as a whole, including the poor and the working class.
“We have also seen unusual activism from the private sector lately in support of such formations, with big business taking the unusual step at times to encourage workers to leave work with full pay, and march against the democratic government. The same employers adopt a no work no pay stance when the workers demand better wages and working conditions.”
Delegate Z would ponder all of this quietly, and then stand up, and clear her throat, and say, “Hostile opinions? Other ‘formations’? Oh dear me, this takes me back decades! Those ‘hostile opinions’, President Zuma, are in fact the opinions of the few who have the courage to speak truth in the face of lies, deceit and the most vile fraudulent behaviour by elected officials. They are the opinions of those whose hand you have forced by not being able or prepared to set things right, to pay back the money (of your own choice) and NOT to have involved yourself and thereby US THE TAXPAYERS with the Guptas. “They are the opinions of those who must now seek recourse in the legal system so that the Constitution that your once noble organisation created can continue to do its work and continue to be the foundation upon which the nation’s democracy, such as it is, is built. If these people and their ‘other formations’ were NOT to do this, sir, there can be no doubt that the edifice would fall and the entire nation with it!
“You see, Mr President, this is something that I happen to know something about – civil society standing up to an illegitimate government involving itself in illegal and corrupt things. Boy, is this something that I know something about. And all right-thinking people in the nation will be saying right now, ‘Thank God for the Helen Suzman Foundation, Right2Know, SECTION27, Freedom Under Law and the many other civil society ‘formations’ that are fighting the good fight,’ AND, by all accounts, sir, WINNING IT!”
At which point, Delegate Z would need to get home to bed to restore herself to fight another day. DM
Tony Jackman is Daily Maverick's Chief Sub-Editor and occasional columnist. In his other life he's a playwright (An Audience With Miss Hobhouse, Cape of Rebels) and author of foodSTUFF (Human & Rossouw), which combines essays and reflections on his life with 60 recipes for some of this foodie's favourite dishes. Though of Yorkshire parentage, he was born in the diamond dorp of Oranjemund, which explains everything.