The African National Congress's (ANC) policy conference gets underway in Johannesburg on Friday with the party engulfed in its most serious crisis since its founding 105 years ago.
It is paralysed by a flood of evidence detailing the extent and depth of state capture and grand corruption, local governance in many of the ANC-run municipalities is collapsing, the leadership race is widening the chasms of division and the tripartite alliance has been reduced to an afterthought.
The ANC is unable to make difficult decisions, hijacked by groups fighting for supremacy and survival and blind to the cancer of corruption eating away at it.
— Year of OR Tambo (@MYANC) June 29, 2017
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's embattled secretary-general, said on Thursday the party will robustly engage with all the issues affecting it and the country and that the state of the economy will take centre stage. "We must come out of here (the conference) with more clarity," he said.
But the party will more than likely conclude proceedings in five days' time even more divided, uncertain about policy and unable to make the sweeping structural decisions it needs to in order to arrest its almost inexorable slide to electoral defeat.
Just Thursday, it was again buffeted from all sides by crises of its own doing.
A group of ANC veterans – the "stalwarts" – held a media conference at Constitution Hill, with a tablecloth with an imprint of Nelson Mandela's face draped over the lectern, slamming Mantashe and co's intransigence in refusing to hold a proper consultative conference.
Headlined by people with unquestioned struggle credentials and a lifelong commitment to the struggle like Murphy Morobe, Mavuso Msimang and Cheryl Carolus, the grouping said they will boycott the first two days of the conference set aside as a panacea for the aggrieved veterans. "There was never any intention to allow for a real consultative conference," Morobe said.
At the same time the ANC dissidents were addressing the media, former cabinet minister and senior ANC member Tokyo Sexwale was holding another media conference, releasing the findings of the inquiry by advocate Geoff Budlender into the allegations by a whistle-blower into the Gupta-aligned Trillian Capital.
Sexwale resigned as chairperson of Trillian immediately after the media conference, saying that the company's leadership has "shaken hands with the wrong people".
Trillian of course is the company that knew, months before it happened, that President Jacob Zuma was going to fire Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene. According to Sexwale and Budlender, Trillian refused to cooperate with the investigation and recommends to the board that allegations against it need to form part of Zuma's proposed inquiry into state capture.
And while all of this was happening, respected journalist Peter Bruce, the former editor of Business Day and editor-at-large at the Tiso Blackstar Group (formerly the Times Media Group), was being harassed at his Parkhurst home by approximately 25 Gupta goons in the form of Black First Land First. Singing and chanting, wearing brand-spanking new Black First Land First t-shirts (sponsored by Bell Pottinger and Oakbay Investments?) and spray-painting slogans on Bruce's garage door, they defended the Guptas and accosted the journalist as a defender of white monopoly capital.
The response to my column this morning. Outside my house.... pic.twitter.com/trERmxo5DQ— Peter Bruce (@Bruceps) June 29, 2017
Bruce told HuffPost SA it constituted an attack on his freedom of speech and media freedom in the country. His crime? Calling out the Gupta family and the grand project of state capture they have been spearheading with Zuma's assistance. "I won't stop writing about the Guptas, I won't stop doing what I do," he said.
And that was just Thursday.
This conference is nominally about policy. It's supposed to take a deep dive into economic policy, organisational reforms, governance theory, long-term strategy, social issues, international relations and broad government policy.
In reality it will be about factional alignment, the safeguarding of vested interests, the broadening of patronage networks and shoring up of defences.
The crisis, which started at the ANC's national general council in 2005 in Pretoria after Thabo Mbeki fired Jacob Zuma, deepened at Polokwane two years later, was suppressed at Mangaung in 2012 but ever since Nkandla in 2014 has spiralled out of control, is now reaching maturity.
At the entrance to the Nasrec showgrounds in the south of Johannesburg, where the conference will be held in cold and cavernous halls, there are massive banners proclaiming that the ANC will be "deepening unity".
It's a tall ask when the divisions are so deep, when so many cadres are captured and survival stakes so high.