Only a stone’s throw away from the trappings of political power in South Africa’s administrative capital, in a crammed four-star hotel conference room in the country’s economic powerhouse, there is another ANC.
It’s an ANC that talks about President Jacob Zuma’s recall as the only logical conclusion to the Constitutional Court’s damning finding last week on his failure to uphold the Constitution.
It’s an ANC where secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s fear that such a recall would tear the party apart doesn’t feature, and one where stubbornly disregarding opposition calls just for the sake of it is considered foolish.
On Wednesday night this ANC, facilitated by its Liliesleaf branch based in Midrand, drew hundreds of ANC members and supporters from all over Gauteng and from neighbouring Mpumalanga and Limpopo under the banner, “The current challenges in the ANC: How did the present come about?”
They arrived in cars, not buses, and they clapped, laughed and cheered amid talk of reclaiming the ANC. There were amandlas, but not the spontaneous breaking out in song that often happens when the masses meet.
Despite some sullen concerns, there was a discernable relief among most that their voices had found a legitimate space. There was warmth among the ANC comrades present, even though it was cold outside.
‘Don’t shoot the messenger’
ANC veteran Denis Goldberg was billed to speak but couldn’t make it. The new, outspoken chairperson of nonprofit watchdog body Corruption Watch, Mavuso Msimang, did.
Msimang – who worked in the Thabo Mbeki administration but wanted to keep perceptions of vengefulness in check – asked for swift action, in consultation with the party’s branches.
He said: “A recall isn’t something to be used [lightly], but we are dealing here with a constitutional matter. I just hope it doesn’t happen in another 50 years. These aren’t things that happen all the time.
“To continue with an unsuitable person in office until you consult the structures, it’s not being serious at all. That behaviour reflects badly on the ANC,” he said.
“For the ANC to proudly defeat the spirit of the Constitution is not a victory. We voted overwhelmingly against the Constitution [in Parliament on Tuesday during the opposition’s impeachment bid],” he said to loud applause.
The date for local government elections had been announced earlier in the day – they will be on August?3 – raising another concern of ANC leaders in Gauteng, a province where votes have been bleeding away. “If some action had been taken that was considered by many in the public to be decisive, we would win this election hands-down. We would,” Msimang said to more applause.
“But if we sit like rats marooned on a log in the ocean and expect others to come and fish us out, that is when we are going to run into trouble. This is a messenger you should not kill: don’t shoot the messenger.”
Many who got up during the question-and-answer session came with answers rather than questions, contained in mini-speeches at times too long for the time-starved urbanites.
Former ANC Youth League deputy leader Ronald Lamola was among them, saying the ANC had to be modernised because it still operated like a banned underground organisation. Decisions that should take minutes take years, he said.
One speaker even accidentally mentioned that Gauteng needed to think about “how we are going to launch comrade Cyril Ramaphosa”, a reference to the deputy president’s potential presidential campaign. He was laughed off, not because there isn’t any support for Ramaphosa, but because the ANC’s elective conference is only in 18 months’ time.
For many in that four-star hotel in Midrand, the conference can’t come soon enough.