The ANC is going into its five-yearly conclave for a second time at Nasrec and things are bizarrely very similar although they appear very different. In 2017, Jacob Zuma was midway through his second term as president of the Republic of South Africa.
There was a groundswell of antipathy against him, mostly because the Guptas who every one hated, had legged it to Dubai. Even so, Msholozi’s proxies narrowly missed getting in. And it was hair-breadth narrow. The arguments ever since have been about CR taking a leaf our of JZ’s books and gazumping him with the delegates.
What will happen this weekend? In 2017 comic Conrad Koch and his puppet Chester Missing entertained delegates, journalists and a fascinated country with his one man show. The ANC’s own comic relief, Carl Niehaus, dubbed No-House after being canned by the ANC this week after years of open dissent, will be staging his own one man show.
He won’t be allowed in but he’ll probably be at the gate with his tiny framed A3 poster calling on Ramaphosa to go. When he’s finished for the day, he’ll shoot home to broadcast one of his alt-news/ alt-reality podcasts into the ether.
There’s doubt whether the heroically inept former social services minister and Women’s League leader Bathabile Dlamini will be allowed past the security checks. She can’t stand for leadership because she was convicted of lying – even though the president never made a move on her for almost collapsing the country’s social grant system.
Tony Yengeni, South Africa’s original post-apartheid pin up for bent politicians, is another unfortunate. His past caught up with him this week. He claims his record has been expunged 20 years after he was first convicted. He’s right.
That’s the problem with the ANC. If the party grandees actually acted against everyone who had criminal records – or had a prima facie case against them – when they should have, they wouldn’t need Nasrec to hold an elective conference, they could probably fit everyone into the Zoo Lake bowls club, with enough space for the media too.
In December 2017, the talk was of the “New Dawn”. In December 2022, Eskom is at unprecedented (that word again) levels of breakdown, municipalities are literally falling apart, unemployment is skyrocketing. Perpetually blanket blaming Zuma for all the ills of the country, is becoming a little bit like blaming apartheid; it’s convenient but it begs the question: what happened when apartheid/ Zuma ended?
Which is why culling Niehaus, Dlamini and Yengeni in the week of the conference but leaving others in play, especially cabinet ministers who openly revolt against the president, is all realpolitik rather than principle. It’s a very heavy-handed signal to the party faithful to behave or get kicked out of the line for the gravy train.
That’s not New Dawn, that’s the Phala Phala Playbook. Slavishly cut and pasted from JZ playbook, the tenets are simple: defend the indefensible in the service of self-interest at all times.
Except this December, Eskom is about to come around to our homes to blow out our candles and take them.
Originally published by the Saturday Star on 17 December 2022.