The comrades want … and want

Saturday afternoon. The Bhekuzulu Hall at the University of Zululand is a massive, empty cavern. Hollow.

It’s deliciously cool inside after several hours of baking in the sun. The sweat built up sitting outside while the ANC KwaZulu-Natal provincial task team addressed the party’s branch delegates before sending them home starts drying in the chilled air. There’s a small group of comrades noisily taking down ANC banners at the side of the hall. Others are dismantling overhead lights. Nobody looks too enthusiastic about the job at hand.

They’re not the only ones deconstructing things. Outside the hall, vendors who had turned up for the three-day conference, called as a rerun for the November 2015 elective conference — itself canned by a court order — are dismantling their small forest of gazebos and packing away boxes of ANC T-shirts and caps. The lucky ones made a few bucks on Friday morning outside the Durban high court when former president Jacob Zuma made his remand appearance.

Only a few food vendors had bothered to set up shop on Saturday. Most had left the previous evening when news filtered down that the conference had been halted by the Pietermaritzburg high court while they were on their way to the Ongoye campus.

The delegates are gone. Buses had been leaving the university since after breakfast. Those who had stuck around for the final briefing were ushered out while the media contingent were corralled in the canteen downstairs, decoyed by the offer of lunch along with the cops and the spooks underneath the hall to stop us from talking to the delegates. A bit of a waste of time, given the invention of the smartphone, but I suppose the ANC bureaucracy has to justify its own existence, stamp its authority.

READ MORE: Court halts ANC KZN conference… for now

As soon as the delegates were out of the hall, we were herded upstairs, the offer of lunch suddenly — cruelly — withdrawn, leaving notebooks and half-eaten plates of mutton curry and phuthu, for a long-awaited briefing with the leadership.

Co-ordinator Sihle Zikalala and convener Mike Mabuyakhulu are seated on the podium. Both are staring ahead at the stand of TV cameras in front of them. Neither is looking at the other. ANC national executive committee member Nocawe Mafu, the deployee in charge of overseeing the canned conference, is sitting next to them. She’s trying to smile but she’s battling.

I can’t say I blame Mafu. Empangeni is a pretty grim place at the best of times. Mafu led the team that suggested the conference go ahead in the first place. The mayhem that took place the night before happened on her watch.

Welcome to the Kingdom.

The top right-hand corner of the huge conference banner behind the three is unravelling. Like the conference itself — and the governing party in the province — the banner appears to have come unstuck.

I’m conflicted about the conference being canned. On the one hand, I’m heading home this afternoon, rather than Sunday, which is cool. On the other, the interdict stopping the conference — and the mini-riot halting the “consultative conference” organisers decided to push ahead with it despite the interdict — means we’ll eventually have to come back here and do this all over again. Hopefully before next year’s election.

Coming here in the first place was rather fruitless exercise, given that the court had granted the interdict stopping the conference. Continuing under those conditions was kinda strange. Creepy even.

It’s like having a wedding without actually getting married after the bride got cold feet and dumped you, or conducting a funeral with an empty coffin after the deceased has come back to life, or decided not to die in the first place. A more sensible approach might have been to have regional leaders brief delegates, feed them and send them home. Most already knew by the time they landed, so why prolong the agony?

Then again, that would have robbed the comrades of the opportunity to humiliate ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe in apparent retaliation for Zuma’s court appearance earlier in the day. How else to read the chorus of Wenzeni u Zuma as Mantashe tried to address them?

Zikalala starts with an apology for the heckling of Mantashe. The alien behaviour of the comrades, like they never booed Thabo Mbeki. Or S’bu Ndebele.

Zikalala pauses. The apology is over before it ever really started, something like the conference. And the unity slate mooted to try to end the trench warfare that didn’t end in KwaZulu-Natal after the ANC’s Nasrec elective conference in December.

Zikalala goes on the offensive.

The comrades were angry about the conference being interdicted. The comrades were provoked, as it were, by national leaders of the ANC daring to interfere in KwaZulu-Natal. The comrades want the comrades who took the conference to court to be punished. The comrades want the judge investigated for ruling against them. The comrades want the conference to go ahead, chop-chop. The comrades want. The comrades want.

There’s a brief question time. Five only. No follow-up. No one-on-one interviews. They might as well have told us to stay at home. Sent us a WhatsApp message.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.
Advertising

READ IT IN FULL: Ramaphosa’s address on the extension of...

This is the full address given by President Cyril Ramaphosa on April 9

Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world