Language of the comrades: A guide to Mangaung’s buzzwords

The ANC have a number of favoured phrases in their shared lexicon, but some made more of an appearance than others at the party’s 53 national conference in Mangaung on Sunday. Here’s how to use them.

Democracy: With provincial leadership landing up in court allegations of murder, the ANC has been rent by factionalism and infighting as never before. Jacob Zuma put a spin on the division, dressing it up as evidence of the party’s “vibrant democracy”. Struggle royalty and tweeter Shaka Sisulu also praised the party’s democratic nature, using it to explain why the conference’s programme has to be adopted by all delegates even though it could cause a four-hour delay to an already late conference.

Do say: “The constitution is so democratic that every element has to be agreed on.”

Don’t say: Shouldn’t a democratic organisation allow would-be leaders to campaign openly?

Progressive forces: Sometimes used interchangeably with “change”. Zuma seems to have co-opted the phrase used by his enemies in the movement, and repeatedly spoke about forces of change, progressive forces and other catch phrases that spoke to renewal – usually associated with the Kgalema Motlanthe camp. Assured of victory in this election, he can afford to.

Do say: The progressive forces under Zuma will work together to do more.

Don't say: Chaaaaaange! (it's the inflection that makes it pro-Motlanthe, you see.)

Tendencies: Typically the favoured insult of Zuma’s enfant terrible Julius Malema, the phrase was used at this conference to describe the sort of behavior that was giving the ANC a really bad name. In his political report, Zuma mentioned members taking the party to court, ill-discipline, allegations of murder and, without a trace of irony, the problem of politicians taking money and effectively being turned into a commodity.

Do say: “These tendencies are creeping into the movement very gradually and need to be dealt with strongly.”

Don’t say: “Didn’t your party learn some of these tendencies from your leaders, Mr President?”

The vanguard of the working class: AKA the South African Communist Party. This, we were told, was not to be confused with Cosatu which is NOT a political party.

Do say:  “The SACP is the vanguard of the working class while the ANC stands for the interest of the entire nation irrespective of class or standing in society.”

Don’t say: So… what would happen if Cosatu did start its own political party?

Second phase of our transition: Remember the ANC policy documents released earlier this year. They boasted of a second economic transition now that the first political transition was complete. Some say it was Zuma’s attempt at an intellectual legacy but it was rubbished by many, including people in his own party, as being simplistic and patently false: the first transition hadn’t been concluded. To save face it was dubbed the “Second phase of our transition”. Not quite as catchy, but Zuma still uses it regularly, including in his political report at the conference.

Do say: The ANC will continue to have a bias towards the poor and the working class as we work through the second phase of our transition.

Don’t say: Thabo Mbeki’s “I am an African” was such a brilliant legacy, wasn’t it?

The plan, the plan, the plan: With the news of über minister Trevor Manuel's plans to step down fresh in everyone's minds, Zuma spent a fair amount of his speech praising the Polokwane survivor's work. His department, the national planning commission's big plan got a surprising amount of air time in Zuma's speech. Zuma has been criticized for having several centers of policy development for the country without taking a firm stance on any of them. No more. The party was told in no uncertain terms on Saturday which plan would take precedence. So enthusiastic was Zuma that he gave the national planning document a triple blessing, referring to it as "The plan, the plan, the plan" at several points in his speech.

Do say: "There is nothing that must go in any other direction. Everything we must do must enhance the plan, the plan, the plan."

Don't say: "What took you so long?"

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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