Some say the ANC’s annual January statement read out by the president on Saturday was long and boring. What kind of assessment is that? Where were these people when brother Moammar Gadaffi caused his own interpreter to collapse with exhaustion after speaking for 94 minutes at the UN last September? And what about the young Fidel Castro reputed to have addressed the UN for four full hours in 1960? In fact the world record for the longest speech ever is held by none other than our very own one and only Shenge — more than 350 pages delivered over 5 days! And people still have the cheek to call the Zuma speech too long!

Granted “boring” and “too long” are twins. A boring ten minute-long speech is way too long. Yet an entertaining hour-long speech may be too short. But this is where they get it wrong with JZ. Just because he can sing and dance (boy, can that man move!) does not mean that it is his task to entertain us. He has a job to do and that includes reading out the January statement word for word as prepared by the party. True that the statement was more about government programmes and intentions than it was about the party. Here I tend to agree with some criticisms of the speech. There were celebratory and reminiscent tidbits about the party, its history and some rough sketches of what the party was planning. But there was, in my opinion, little that was elaborate about the vision and direction of the party this year, beyond the service-delivery mantra. The “government section” of the statement offers a lot more, but the proof will come when citizens taste the promised pudding.

Let me suggest that in order to understand the frantic activities at Galeshewe in Kimberley last week, the January statement, important and historic as it is, is the wrong place to look. So much more was happening there. There was a carefully orchestrated set of activities and rich reservoir of audio and video material to digest and work with: there was the party in full colour and voice and there was the party (as in bash), the presidential and general secretarial “walkabouts” (nice new term!) the memorial and political lectures, the posters, the T-shirts, the caps, the gala dinner, the revolutionary greetings, the carefully prepared messages of support, the elaborate dancing rituals pregnant with meaning, the booings that never were, the songs unsung and the words left unsaid.

When I consider it all together, I am reminded of a good old beauty contest. But the “beauty” on display is multifaceted. The beauty was paraded in the streets of Galeshewe, in the squatter camps, in the decorated gala dinner hall and on stage at the stadium. There is larger context for the contest. Given the strong presence of embassies from all corners of the earth, the looming Fifa spectacle as well as the immense international and national media interest in the event — there was a global dimension to the contest in question.

It is the local and internal dimension of the contest that captivates. There was first and foremost a fierce contest for the ears and eyes of the party president. Indications are that factions may be forming around this contest. Indeed we may have now moved beyond the first round into the knockout phase of this particular contest. On the one corner we have Malema and his supporters, on the other, there is Mantashe with Nzimande with their equally determined forces. What Kimberley and Galeshewe could not answer is: who will be knocked out? There are many rounds yet to be fought in this increasingly ugly beauty contest.

As it is with all beauty contests, the contestants must wear a permanent smile. In Kimberley there were smiles and hugs galore. Even Malema did his bit of smiling and contributed his share of hugging and embracing. There was only one moment of weakness when he characteristically felt compelled to “speak the truth”. He was not smiling when he “spoke the truths”. That was an un-beauty-contestly moment! In a beauty contest, contestants smile with hope and anticipation. But they must reserve their best smiles for that moment just before and just after the final results are announced. Only then do the losers (diplomatically called runners-up) smile with pain while the winners cry with joy.

In this case, the joyful crying will come in 2012, perhaps. For now, the contest is on. I was about to say, may the best team win, when I suddenly thought: are we (again) going to be reduced to spectators at this beauty contest with such immense implications for our country? Shall we stand aside and look as the contestants take one another, the party and the country into a bottomless pit at every conceivable opportunity? Mr State President, you may have to intervene and intervene drastically. Let the contestants know that there are millions of disciplined members of the movement who do not appreciate this contest. Let them know that there is citizenry which has invested their last hopes and all faith in them and in this historic party. Please chasten the flaming ambitions and inflated egos — all of them without exception. Deal with the issues of policy between the alliance partners. Deal with the 2010 succession issues, they are already wreaking havoc in the minds of many. Most importantly Mr President, deal with the issues of ordinary citizens many of whom are jobless, hopeless and poor.


  • Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination with ideas, a passion for justice, a crazy imagination as well as a big appetite for music, reading and writing. He has lectured briefly at such universities as Hamburg in Germany, Lausanne in Switzerland, University of Nairobi in Kenya and Lund University in Sweden - amongst others.


Tinyiko Sam Maluleke

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke is a South African academic (currently attached to the University of South Africa [UNISA]) who suffers from restlessness, intellectual insomnia, insatiable curiosity, a facsination...

Leave a comment