A cold day inside the ANC

PHAKAMISA MAYABA  / Winter has come early, not just for the country but also for the ruling elite. As the results trickled on to the board in the IEC Results Operations Centre, the faces of many politicos on the floor were far from bearing the wide, chirpy grins we’ve come to know.

Some were gutted, or unmistakably uneasy – a throwback to former president Jacob Zuma’s sullen expression when his anointed candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, lost to incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC elective conference in 2017. Except this time the tables were turned: Zuma was the one grinning (and was even treated to a rock star-like reception), while his former comrades gazed listlessly at the big screens, occasionally unleashing their frustrations on the media and whoever else dared to ask a patronizing question.

Whatever the role of the media may or may not have been, voters have demonstrated resoundingly that it’s nothing personal – they’ve just had it, and dealt the ANC its worst election outcome since the dawn of democracy.

The ‘Ankoles’ – Ramaphosa’s ridiculously named toadies — are no doubt plundering the liquor cabinets, along with those MPs who will not be going back to the august House. One has to feel for them. Just like that, gone are the days of free generators, uncapped data plans and blue light convoys. Social media are having a field day, with some users gleefully advising that the cadres pay up on the big Mercs because what lies ahead looks very bleak indeed.

A Facebook post that did the rounds earlier this week.

Elsewhere, the long knives are no doubt being sharpened, accompanied by conspiratorial conversations among cadres who once swore unfaltering allegiance to the billionaire president. As the likes of Ace Magashule, Jacob Zuma and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula among a slew of fall guys and outcasts can attest, a day in politics is a long time. One moment you’re Comrade S-G, the next you’re spat out like tasteless gum, and everybody’s blue-ticking (‘ghosting’ as the ether generation says) you on WhatsApp.

On the back of the ANC’s most damning election result, one can expect that there are people lurking in the National Executive Committee who will bay for Ramaphosa’s blood. They will want the head of the man on whose watch the ‘people’s movement’ has degenerated from an untouchable institution into – to steal a remark from one cynical cadre – ‘a Mickey Mouse  club’ which has effectively retrenched at least 71 national cadres. Given the various incriminating audios leaked from NEC meetings, we know that Ramaphosa is hardly popular among the very people he breaks bread with.

Yet another leaked recording of an NEC meeting.

The so-called RET faction, which evidently never really went away, is probably plotting his downfall. Whatever ammunition they needed has been handed to them in the form of the 39.77% party showing at the polls. The worst ever, by a staggering drop of 17 percentage points from 2019. To add insult to injury, the ANC has +also lost its provincial majority in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, and our own Northern Cape.

ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula’s pre-coalition-talks assertion that removing the president would be a ‘no-go’ zone suggests he’s aware the axe is swinging above Ramaphosa’s head. There will be calls for him to step down. And, given that he was talked out of resigning last year, he may well depart without putting up much of a fight. He seems like a reasonable enough guy to see the writing on the wall, find his pen once more to sign his resignation, and lick his wounds at Phala-Phala.

Or maybe, when the dust has settled, reason will prevail, and the cadres will realise: if not him, then who? Deputy President Paul Mashatile, who is dogged by scandal? Zweli Mkhize, who was fingered for alleged PPE corruption? Clearly, not many hands are clean in the corridors of a Luthuli House that advocates a living wage but often pays its own staff on the 35th of the month. Or after they’ve taken to a picket line, or run to the media.

A cursory glance at the results suggests befuddling, unfamiliar patterns in South African voting sensibilities. It seemed the priority was to simply teach the ANC a lesson, no matter what the cost. The fact that former president Zuma is facing a doorstop of corruption charges and may not serve as an MP hasn’t stopped his MK Party from bagging an incredible 14.36% of the vote to become the country’s third biggest party.

Equally surprising is how effortlessly this party has swatted Julius Malema’s EFF down a position, this while establishing itself as the biggest party in KZN. The Red Brigade looked like they would inch nearer to the second-placed DA and establish themselves as the official opposition as early as 2029, but this result must clearly have come as a blindside, even to them.

The PA’s Gayton McKenzie and Kenny Kunene arrive at the IEC Results Operations Centre. Image: PA Facebook page/ Bruce A. Joshua Nimmerhoudt.

The other surprising result – that of the PA, led by Gayton McKenzie, a man most famous for a stint in prison and a lavish lifestyle — suggests that voters have lost faith in the old parties, and believe that someone who used to lead the 26s into criminality could lead the country to prosperity. This should be unnerving. That is, until you look at all the suspect faces who populate the party lists, and wonder if the voters aren’t onto something. McKenzie, goes the defence, has paid his dues – what about those who’ve never seen the inside of a dock? And so,, in its first general election, the PA has walked away with a 2.12% share of the vote, meaning McKenzie will move from the cold cells of Grootvlei Prison to the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.

The Freedom Front Plus, which pulled off a rather impressive performance in the last government elections, has failed to consolidate that showing in this election, dipping slightly in both the national and provincial ballots. Although some may attribute this to an ineffective campaign, perhaps the reality is that conservative and right-wing white South Africa, spooked by the prospect of an ANC/EFF or ANC/MKP coalition, have thought it best to put their eggs in one basket, namely the DA. DA leader John Steenhuisen has labelled these the  Doomsday’ coalitions, and that seems to have paid off.

The usual cast of inconsequential parties have registered pretty much the usual lacklustre results. Sadly, despite Rise Mzansi’s Songezo Zibi being touted as the sort of progressive politician the country needs, as well as pocketing a much-publicised ‘donation’ of R15 million from Rebecca Oppenheimer, he has only managed to win two seats in parliament. Likewise, Mmusi Maimane’s BOSA.

Already there are reports of the ANC rushing into coalition talks with various parties. There seems to be internal differences about who the ANC should sweet-talk into such a partnership. There are those who find the prospect of a deal with the DA – considered a pro-business white party in some quarters – reprehensible. It would dent their street credit among other afro-nationalist socialists. The likes of Mashatile, against whom the DA is pursuing corruption charges, is said to be one such unhappy camper. As previously reported here, it seems the DA has been secretly working on such a coalition from the get-go.

The horse-trading cuts both ways, with the EFF seeking the finance ministry as well as the position of parliamentary speaker as conditions for its support. Not unexpectedly, the MK has said, we’ll talk to you, provided you first sack Ramaphosa. Surprisingly, Fikile Mbalula has stated that the ANC would enter into a coalition on a premise of principles rather than ideology. This could be a veiled attempt to fend off those who would wish to oppose a possible coalition with parties that aren’t traditionally ‘African.’

Be that as it may, history will record that this was the most important election since 1994. Nobody could have predicted the startling outcomes. The powers that be certainly didn’t. That a man who spent some 17 years in a prison cell will probably be sitting in the House where the laws are decided is hard to wrap one’s head around. Also, that the party of a former president whom everybody thought was no threat all and which was born less than a year ago will be the third biggest in the country. But the most stunning thing of all is how ex-cadres have often lamented how cold it is outside the ANC. This time around, the icy breeze has come from within.

FEATURED IMAGE: President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the results ceremony in the IEC Results Operation Centre. Not everybody was to cheerful. Image: GCIS / Flickr.

This is an edited version of an article that has appeared on Phakamisa Mayaba’s website, eParkeni. Used with permission.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap