IT’S not often that you find a coherent President Jacob Zuma. But we got that today, as he delivered a political report to open the Mangaung conference. The usually nervous, incoherent president wasn’t there. What we saw was a comfortable man, making a case for his re-election, telling delegates that most of the resolutions from the Polokwane five years ago had actually been met. That some were not met — such as slow progress in land redistribution — was also acknowledged.
The last time I saw an assured Zuma was at the ANC national general council held in Durban in 2010. He walked into a sort of a lion’s den, with the ANC Youth League threatening to make his life difficult.
The league wanted mine nationalisation to be recognised as an official policy of the party. There was also the chance that they could sneak in a motion of no confidence in Zuma.
That was the mid-term conference of the ANC, looking at the journey travelled from Polokwane to that point. Mr Zuma then took the fight to them and to everyone else. He whipped Julius Malema, the unions and everybody else on his way into line. Kudos. But that did not last.
Fast forward to Mangaung! A surprising refreshed man appeared on stage on Sunday, belting out a moving song in honour of former president Nelson Mandela. The delegates loved it. Who wouldn’t? The man can sing.
Coming back to his speech, he gave a good account, from his perspective, obviously, of his government’s performance. It has a plan. The National Development Plan is in place. Well, that’s Zuma for you. Having a plan is as good as implementing it. For the past two years he has been reminding us that he has an economic plan — the New Growth Path.
What was missing in his report on Sunday, like most of his party speeches, was an objective analysis of the state of South African politics, and how the ANC could respond. His party is facing a credibility crisis, linked to factional fights. The ANC’s electoral culture is fast discrediting the party. The period up to the Mangaung conference shows the party is at a risk of rupturing because the losers do not recognise the winners as legitimate victors. It is possible that some day, complaints of vote rigging, of nomination process subversion, could tear the ANC apart. There’s also the chance that the very same Mangaung conference could be discussed in the courts by people who feel they were unfairly locked out of the process.
What he glossed over, too, was the ANC’s health. The party is in qualitative decline, despite its numerical growth. It is fast becoming a party about songs — which have become the most positive aspects of its conferences. Policy matters come secondary to most delegates as they fix their eyes on leadership elections. Maybe he left that out for the organisational report, to be tabled by secretary-general Gwede Mantashe on Sunday evening.
All in all, maybe as a surprise too, he stood firm and appeared confident, reporting back on the past five years. Let’s now see how the other side of the ANC — the side that bickers over the voters’ roll, the side that throws bottles at one another when decision don’t go their way, the side that demands policies go its way irrespective — progresses at Mangaung. It’s only been day one, and the conference has hardly started.