Here’s looking at you, cadres
About this time 10 years ago, results from the ANC’s provincial general councils were trickling out of conference venues throughout the country.
The news was confirming what all except those blindly loyal to then president Thabo Mbeki already knew: the writing was on the wall.
Six out of the nine provinces were backing his then party deputy, Jacob Zuma, with quite comfortable majorities. One was backing something called a third way.
Jolted by the outcomes of these councils, Mbeki’s staunchest loyalists fanned out across the country in a desperate bid to reverse these results.
They would naively continue to believe, until the very end, that their intellectually superior and tried-and-tested candidate would triumph over the country bumpkin who could hardly chew with his mouth closed or choose the right direction when boarding escalators.
This naivety would last until the very last second. Who can forget the sight of Mbeki’s lieutenant, Mluleki George, commanding his troops on the grounds of the University of Limpopo, telling them that the fight was still on?
So steadfast and convinced was his message that he earned himself the title of Comical Ali, after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s defence minister, who kept pronouncing that the US and its allies were being kept at bay, even as the bombs were raining on Baghdad and the tanks were at the gates of the city.
The events of those days changed South Africa forever. The bumbling country bumpkin won handsomely over the professorial one, paving the way for his ascension to the top job two years later.
What was remarkable was that he triumphed despite having a mountain of criminal charges hanging over him, as well as a distinguished record of uselessness, of incompetence and of letting it all hang out.
Pay the price
South Africa and the ANC were to pay the price over the next decade. The man’s first act upon assuming power was to put up For Sale signs at Luthuli House, the Union Buildings, departmental headquarters and parastatals’ head offices. The condition for would-be buyers was that he must be bought first, and then the rest would follow.
Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of willing bidders. Some bought him whole, while others bought shares in him.
The more you bought, the more access you gained to the nation’s jewels and money vault.
One particular family enterprise invested well, and bought him and his entire brood. Their fortunes multiplied. Their investment grew to incorporate ministers, deputy ministers, senior (tall and short) party officials, boards and executives of state-owned enterprises, and the dogs and parrots of all these people.
By 2017, this family was the de facto government of South Africa. The only state function they could not carry out was to order an invasion of a neighbouring country – although they did try to do this by using the profits of their South African investments to buy the government of Lesotho.
By 2017, the outcome of the 2007 ANC conference could be felt from metro to village. Corruption, maladministration, incompetence and slovenliness were badges of honour. With everybody wanting to emulate the king, it was a race to the bottom.
The economy is crawling more slowly than a snail. Infrastructure is creaking. The world does not take us seriously. Even the Springboks, twice world champions, have become whipping boys. (Okay, blaming him for that one is a bit of a stretch, but why waste an open season?)
“Downgrade” has become such a common word, you can use it to nickname a sportsperson. In fact, if South Africa was Zimbabwe, the home affairs births registry would be full of Downgrades.
In two weeks, the ANC will try to correct the error of its ways, or so we are told.
The candidates vying for the presidency of the party – most of whom were party to the creation of the monster we have – tell us they will put the party and the country back on track should they get the nod. It is as if they want to atone for their sins.
Oddly, the one person who stood on the ticket that attempted to stop Zuma’s rise in 2007 happens to be his favoured candidate.
He goes wherever she goes. He even sings and dances for her crowds to prevent them from falling asleep when she delivers speeches.
The one big blunder that the ANC can make at Nasrec in a few weeks’ time is to correct its mistake by making another one: giving a blank cheque to an individual.
Zuma was allowed to poison the ANC, the tripartite alliance, South Africa and our moral centre because he had that blank cheque. Because he was the leader of the liberation movement and followed in the footsteps of titans, he was given carte blanche by his comrades. Even as society screamed loudly that he was behaving in a treasonous manner, the ANC kept closing its eyes and bowing before him.
Whoever takes over the ANC in mid-December must not have that luxury. He or she must be reined in by the party and society from the word go. When that individual begins their term of office at the helm of the republic’s largest political party, they must know they are on notice. They must know they are inheriting a party that leads a gatvol South Africa, one that so badly wants to walk tall again.
As rapper Nicki Minaj would say: All eyes on you!