The ANC’s January 8 Statement is set to be totally different this year

The ANC caravan moves to Bloemfontein this weekend. It’s the ‘January 8 statement’, the annual jamboree that is second in peacocking only to the five yearly elective conference – which we lived through in December.

It’s a gathering of the good, the not-so good and the out-and-out grifters. It’s always a heady, often noxious, confluence of ambition and opportunity – although the People’s Opportunist, Mpangazitha, won’t be able to be there after being fired, resigning and starting his own one-man band, all in the space of a month. 

This is a different January 8 bash this year; there’ll be a hybrid element for those that can’t be bothered to make it, plus there is still the unfinished business of the elective conference less than three weeks ago. 

The January 8 statement is traditionally a first sign of the ANC’s agenda for the year ahead, something that gets firmed up when the president of the party dons his other hat as president of the country and delivers the State of the Nation Address in the second week of February to open parliament. About 10 days after that, the Minister of Finance will present the budget, which hopefully funds it all.

These are different times though and the ANC is a far different beast than the one that was established in Bloemfontein by luminaries like John Dube, Pixley ka Isaka Seme and Sol Plaatje 111 years ago on January 8, 1912.

For once Helen Zille wasn’t on the receiving end of a tsunami of derision when she pointed out the irony this week of an ANC official at an ANC run metro reporting back that the Dr Petrus Molemela stadium that had been earmarked for tomorrow’s rally was wholly unfit for purpose, its stands in disrepair, no running water and the toilets vandalised.

The obvious alternative is the Free State rugby stadium, but given that it can hold 46 000 people as opposed to the 22 000 that the Petrus Molemela stadium can hold, the ANC’s reluctance is understandable if Cyril Ramaphosa has to speak to empty stands tomorrow. Press ganging enough party faithful on the promise of a lunch pack and a brand-new CR T-shirt will be another pressing concern for the party’s new secretary general, the inimitable – and heroically inept – Fikile Mbalula. 

Mbaks had his work cut out this week after a broken fuel pump at the country’s busiest airport, OR Tambo International, broke causing pandemonium with flight schedules. It was totally avoidable and shouldn’t have happened, but, much like Eskom, that’s become a South African proverb.

What is more pertinent is whether the picture on social media of Mbaks and his wife on New Year’s Day was posted by him or by trolls. He appeared in a suit emblazoned with train tracks, a cross between Thomas the Tank Engine and, as one cynic put it, the Devil wears Prasa.

If he posted that picture, and it wasn’t photoshopped, then the ANC is in even bigger trouble than it can begin to let itself imagine.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 7 January 2023.