The African National Congress (ANC) has no plan to deal with the Guptas, no consensus about their exact role in state capture and no idea what to do.
That much was clear on Friday night after Gwede Mantashe, the secretary-general of the ANC, addressed a media conference at the party's policy conference in Johannesburg in which he elaborated on the presentation of a "diagnostic organisational report". The report was discussed by delegates after apparent attempts were made to block the tabling of the report earlier.
"The problem," Mantashe berated HuffPost South Africa during question time, "is that questions like that (whether it is safe to assume the party is unwilling and/or unable to deal with the issue) show that the media is not able to objectively look at the Guptas."
Mantashe's report, on the face of it, seems like a decent effort to diagnose the numerous terminal conditions that has taken hold of the governing party: "Blurring of the common purpose . . . a growing trust deficit between the party and people . . . the ethics, values and traditions of the movement . . . what is to be done?"
The report acknowledges that there are good reasons why a large part of the South African public believes the ANC as inherently corrupt: "The issue of the Gupta family being influential in the decisions of state has become a household discussion."
But Mantashe's report goes further, urging leaders – like the Guptas' patron, President Jacob Zuma – to take it on the chin. "Linking regime change to state capture reflects the decline in our analytical capaxity. The series of e-mails that released in tranches each day causes more harm to the movement. Our reaction cannot remain careless . . . Where we must own up, individual comrades should do so by providing a reputable explanation, as a few have done. Blatant denial lacks credibility in society."
Society, Mantashe argues, expects the ANC to take a visible stand against corruption and state capture and corruption. "Conference should thus come up with ideas on how our movement can reclaim its image in the eyes of the people . . . failure to do so will accelerate the decline."
But when asked pertinently what the party is doing – a judicial commission of inquiry has been proposed weeks ago – Mantashe was at a loss, preferring rather to circle the wagons in the face of the imperialist media's prejudiced views about the Guptas and Zuma.
"I don't know what the expectation is about the Guptas . . . do we have to deport them? Revoke their citizenship? What must we do? That is the state's function, not the party," he said.
Mantashe was either keeping his powder dry for the inevitable showdown in closed commissions later, or he was being two-faced. The quagmire of corruption and patronage the party finds itself in not Zuma's doing – but he and the Guptas have certainly perfected it to a fine art.
He refused to answer questions from the media honestly. Every query about the family's demonstrated influence on the governing party's leader and the affairs of state was deflected, maligned or scoffed at – as if his own report, public testimony by senior leaders and the daily #GuptaLeaks reports of corruption on industrial scale is part of a Western plot.
"Not a single delegate's surname is Gupta . . .we did not bring the Guptas to conference," Mantashe said flippantly, dismissing queries about how the party will discuss the family.
"Conference is not a place where we interrogate comrades . . . the question is: how does the Guptas impact on the ANC? That is the immediate question . . . the issue of state capture. The Guptas are a function of that," he told the assembled media.
But, "SG" – some of the media refers to Mantashe in a deferential manner, often laughing at his put-downs of fellow journalists, in abeyance of his position as the ANC's chief executive – many journalists insisted: the reports, evidence, stories about the Guptas have been in the public domain for months and months. "What is the party going to do?"
Mantashe and Zizi Kodwa, the party's spokesperson, clad in a khaki onesie with faux military ranks and wearing designer glasses, just shook their heads, spoke about "regime change", "colour revolutions" and about "analysing the characteristics" of the #FeesMustFall and #ZumaMustFall marches.
On Friday amaBhungane and Daily Maverick reported about millions of rands in taxpayers' money diverted from state coffers to fund the Guptas ostentatious Sun City debauchery.
Mantashe could well be trying behind the scenes to sort out the mess that is the Guptas' relationship with Zuma. But evidence over the last 18 months – and answers to direct questions – suggest the opposite.
There is no willingness and no plan in the ANC to deal with the Guptas. The party lives in a parallel universe.