Ferial Haffajee
Ferial Haffajee

A day of terror

livefrompolo1.gifSunday will go down as the day on which President Thabo Mbeki lost the leadership of the ANC, but it’s party chairperson Terror Lekota who goes home with the biggest headache.

What a day! It’s never been this good (for journalists) and so bad (for the ANC). The day ended as it began: with a bewildered NEC being implored to stay behind in the plenary hall by a chairperson who has lost his power. Terror Lekota has had a terrible day; only slightly worse than that of President Thabo Mbeki who watched his authority disappear in full glare of the media and of a party that turned his back on him.

Delegates exacted an awful revenge on Lekota; he was gerrymandered every step of the way. He failed to chair the meeting and twice had to be rescued by the party’s secretary general, Kgalema Motlanthe, who looked more presidential than anybody else on the podium. It’s a massive irony as he was the Jacob Zuma of the Mafikeng conference 10 years ago: the man whom delegates used as their lightning rod to score the changes they wanted then.

Motlanthe secured an early detente on a highly confusing altercation about methods of counting votes that seemed nothing but an assertion of power by a grassroots baying for change.

To sit in the middle of the hall, amid delegations from KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga (all strongholds of Jacob Zuma), was to realise that this battle had been won long before anybody got to Polokwane. The voting is almost moot and the tally to watch is only the size of the victory.

From that vantage point, the NEC out front, on comfy leather chairs on a stage festooned in black, green and gold, looked impotent despite the trappings of high office. The people took power, booing every time an image of a member of Mbeki’s inner circle was flashed on to the overhead television screens.

It would be a massive miscalculation to see the delegates as voting fodder who are the hand-maidens of a populist wannabe president. There is a very determined bid to change the shape of influence and power in the ruling power. It is well-planned and determined, and while there are some Zuma groupies about, many delegates we spoke to are highly articulate about the problems in the ANC and the country.

The push has been given impetus by the massive wealth accumulation that ordinary members of the ANC have witnessed. The gap is highly visible at the conference where senior leaders arrive in the very latest gleaming BMWs, Chryslers and Volvos, while ordinary members arrive as they have always done: by bus , taxi and on foot. A T-shirt with Jacob Zuma’s face and the slogan “Fit to rule” says as much. At the back, it contains the following inscription:

“We did not struggle to be poor [ANC spokesman Smuts Ngonyama’s famous explanation of how he could make over R 50-million on the Telkom deal] but neither did we struggle to get rich while others get poorer.”

It’s all change now. My money’s on Kgalema Motlanthe as deputy president and a radically different national executive committee.