POLITICS

#ANC105: Briefing Notes From Orlando Stadium

Gwede Mantashe was angry, JZ didn't speak much to Cyril and our spymaster was the life and soul of the party.

08/01/2017 13:32 SAST | Updated 08/01/2017 16:40 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
African National Congress (ANC) president,Jacob Zuma (2nd R) waves to his supporters as he arrives for the parties traditional Siyanqoba rally ahead of the August 3 local municipal elections in Johannesburg, South Africa July 31, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

ANALYSIS

Make no mistake, the Orlando Stadium in Soweto was full. It might not have been the summer spectacular Fikile Mbalula, who organised the shindig, would have hoped for, but any organisation that can turn out tens of thousands of its supporters to come and listen to political speeches in the rain must have something going for it. Even if it is busloads of supporters from Supra Mahumapelo's North West Province and DD Mabuza's Mpumalanga.

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Behind the scenes, there was a big focus on selling unity and explaining the African National Congress' (ANC) internal processes. The gathered media, on the concourse behind the private boxes in the southern stand, were given Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general, Zweli Mkhize, treasurer-general, and Lindiwe Zulu, chairperson of the National Executive Committee's (NEC) communication subcommittee. They spoke to anyone and everyone, spinning the same message: unity is key.

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Mantashe was livid with the announcement of the ANC's Women's League (ANCWL) that they will officially support and lobby for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to succeed Jacob Zuma as party leader. "Ill-disciplined" he called them. Mkhize, a trained doctor, preferred soccer parlance and said they are "off-side". He disagrees with the sentiment that the race should be thrown open. "We will first have to finalise the consultation on which characteristics a leader should have. There will be time for campaigning," he said.

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Mkhize, a former KwaZulu-Natal premier, was quick to identify the traits someone should possess if they are to become the next ANC president: "They must be committed to the unity of the ANC, they must have integrity in their leadership as well as a focus on selfless service, service to the people. There are enough of them. It is up to members now to discuss who these are."

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David Mahlobo, the minister of state security – who also hails from Mabuza's Mpumalanga and is part of Zuma's securocrats – was all smiles on stage before proceedings started, greeting every NEC member arriving with a beaming smile. He sat in the front row, between Paul Mashatile, Gauteng chairperson, and S'Dumo Dlamini, Cosatu president. Jeff Radebe, minister in the presidency and the ANC's head of policy, sat next to Dlamini. He wasn't too keen to engage Mahlobo in chats and sat quietly for the duration of proceedings. The old bull has seen this before. He knows the score.

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Derek Hanekom also was on stage. The struggle-veteran and minister of tourism became the vanguard of the anti-Zuma movement in the NEC when he proposed that Zuma step down during an acrimonious NEC meeting at the end of last year. He was all smiles, befitting the occasion, but from afar it didn't seem as if he was the life of the party, standing on his own and clapping with the crowd. The same went for Naledi Pandor, minister of science and technology and not a Zuma supporter. She sat in the row behind Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zuma, only spoke when spoken to and seemingly wasn't all that enamoured with Mahlobo, who tried to hug everybody.

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In stark contrast was the ANCWL strongwomen. Bathabile Dlamini, the minister of social development and the ANCWL's president, sat in the front row, on the opposite side of the stage from Mashatile, Mahlobo, Dlamini and Radebe. The ANCWL of course just announced it will be campaigning for "the only option" the ANC has to succeed Zuma, his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini along with Nomvula Mokonyana, one of Zuma's biggest surrogates and acolytes, was beaming from ear to ear when Zuma arrived. NEC members beat a path to where they were sitting, backslapping them and laughing about all manner of things. They might be "ill-disciplined" or "off-side", but on that stage it was clear they were rockstars.

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Mbalula has now firmly established himself as the ANC's premier organiser. He's organised some duds, sure (the launch of the ANC's election manifesto in a half-full Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth last year comes to mind), but to fill up Orlando Stadium in the pouring rain takes some doing. If the banners around the stadium and anecdotal evidence in the stands were anything to go by, he might have had a little help from his Premier League buddies in Mpumalanga and North West, bussing in supporters from the hinterland.

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Paul Mashatile, the ANC's Gauteng chairperson, delivered a short and sharp welcome on behalf of his province. Facing a banner to one side saying "Gauteng ANC welcomes you!" he implored cadres to return to their branches "and work together". There's no room for "gatekeeping", he said, referring to the practice where branches manipulate popular opinion when deciding who that branch will support for the leadership. Of course, manipulation and "gatekeeping" at branch level will be the order of the day as we move closer to the December elective conference. Zuma, sitting behind the podium, was stone-faced when Mashatile spoke. The two men also didn't shake hands after Mashatile spoke. Gauteng remains a cold place for the man from Nkandla.

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The weather was really, truly miserable. Outside the stadium it was muddy while inside the massive concrete edifice it was wet, wet, wet. That, however didn't deter party loyalists from flocking into the stadium, which was still filling up when Zuma cut off the praise singer halfway through her rendition of "Zuma is a champion for all times", or something to that effect. By the time he got into the swing of things all the stands were full while the playing surface in front of the stage was a sea of yellow ANC t-shirts. Well done, Juju. The ANC bested you.

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There wasn't much in the way of collegial banter and laughs between Zuma and Ramaphosa. When they arrived at the stadium they walked in lock-step, greeting the crowd before they took their seats on stage. Things were pretty grim between them, both men staring into rain and the soaked crowd in the distance, only once exchanging a brief laugh. Ramaphosa raced through the booklet containing the speech once Zuma went to the podium, quickly paging through it (looking for little leadership nuggets?) before settling in to listen to his leader delivering his last January 8 Statement.

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There were three big cheers during the speech. The first was when Zuma said Eskom is recovering, as evidenced by the fact that there wasn't any loadshedding since August last year. The second was when he repeated the sentence imploring the media to "report fairly". The third big cheer was when Zuma denounced the "buying of votes, gatekeeping and manipulation of internal democratic processes". The power of the branches must not be subverted by slates or lobby groups, he said. That is of course exactly where the fight in the run-up to the elective conference will happen: at branch level. And whomever wins in December will win at branch-level, and it will be dirty.

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Hope Papo, a NEC member and Gauteng leader, said the day was a success: "It's raining, yes, but people recognise a moment when they see it. That's why people came out. It's about the ANC."

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When Zuma concluded, he shook hands and bumped shoulders with his deputy and the secretary-general, but the first person that he spoke with was Mahlobo, who pierced the president's personal space and whispered something into his ear before Zuma replied. Mahlobo withdrew and disappeared off stage, while Zuma proceeded to hand out the ANC's annual branch prizes