06/01/2017 18:54 SAST | Updated 06/01/2017 18:58 SAST

#ANC105: Your Playbook To Sunday's Soweto Shindig

There's something special about the ANC's January 8 Statement. Here's what to look out for.

Pieter du Toit
The ANC's January 8 Statement (centre) is unlike any other event on the political calendar.


An ANC event is unlike anything else in politics.

The opening of Parliament is the state's grand get-together, the annual budget speech is very serious, the floor at the Independent Electoral Commission's results centre in Pretoria is something to behold. But the January 8 statement sets the tone. It is after all the traditional start of the political year.

The grand stadium, heaving crowds, vendors selling everything from Madiba shirts, caps and condoms to blankets, the passionate, loyal cadres and the beaming leadership on stage, putting aside their differences and sheathing their political daggers for the moment.

It's all theatre, of course, but it also prepares the groundwork for the cabinet lekgotla in a few weeks' time and provides a draft of the president's state of the nation address in February.

There have been a couple of testy January 8s the last couple of years - 2016, days after Nhlanhla Nene was fired as minister of finance springs to mind, while Thabo Mbeki's last one in 2007 and Jacob Zuma's first in 2008 were tense.

Here's your #ANC105 Playbook for Sunday's event at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg:

1. Devil in the detail

The January 8 Statement, delivered by the ANC leader on behalf of the party's National Executive Committee (NEC), is drafted collectively and is therefore not the president's political overview. The speech paints a big picture of the party and the implementation of its policies and is usually tied to a historical event, like the 60-year anniversary of the Freedom Charter in 2015, for example. With the grip Zuma has on the NEC, it's possible Zuma will use the platform to take a swipe at critics and lash out at any challengers.

With the grip Zuma has on the NEC it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Zuma will use the platform to take a swipe at critics and lash out at any challengers.

2. Speeches by the number

These statements have been constructed using the same blueprint every year. Zuma will pay homage to veterans and highlight any anniversaries for the coming year. He will then establish the ANC's ideological framework - the national democratic revolution and the establishment of a non-racial, non-sexist society. He'll then give an overview of how the party has implemented its goals before moving on to specific issues: #FeesMustFall, economic transformation, land reform. If he goes on the attack, identifying scapegoats or defending his decisions, it will be somewhere in the middle of the speech – quite possibly when referring to the economy.

3. Things left unsaid

Last year's discourse was dominated by the political onslaught on Pravin Gordhan, the Constitutional Court's demolition of Zuma and, of course, state capture and the Guptas. The ANC has acknowledged in public – during the past week and in previous January 8 Statements – that corruption is eroding the party from within. The abuse of state power, the violation of the Constitution and rentseeking will have to be addressed. Zuma is central to all of those. It will be interesting to see how the NEC squares its commitment to the rule of law while defending its own narrow interests - of course doing all of this via Zuma.

The abuse of state power, the violation of the Constitution and rentseeking will have to be addressed. Zuma is central to all of those.

4. A divided house

The speech is preceded by messages of solidarity by the alliance partners - Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP). These missives will be delivered by Blade Nzimande, on behalf of the SACP, and S'du Dlamini, on behalf of Cosatu. But the dynamics in the alliance have changed markedly in 12 months – Nzimande is now considered a fierce opponent of Zuma, while Dlamini, a strong Zuma advocate, has been largely neutered in his own organisation. Their messages will be critical and very instructive.

5. Let them eat cake!

The most banal of January 8 traditions is the cutting of a huge, sugarcoated, black-green-and-yellow cake on stage, while party luminaries hold champagne flutes and cheer the crowd.

But it is what happens outside of the formalities that will be most fascinating: Who will stand at who's side? Who will lift their glasses together? And who will share awkward glances before retreating into the wings?

Julius Malema used to be very prominent at the January 8 statements, hugging top six leaders and chatting away with a laughing Zuma. This year, who will cosy up to Cyril Ramaphosa and who will hang on Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's coattails? Will Gwede Mantashe receiving any toasts or will he be handing them out? Where is Zweli Mkhize going to feature. And will anybody share champagne with Baleka Mbete?

Follow @HuffPost's @ferialhaffajee, @karabongoepe1 and @PieterDuToit for live updates on Sunday. Official proceedings start at 10:00. We'll post our analysis and observations straight through, afterwards and on Monday morning.