/ 16 December 2022

A dramatic day one at Nasrec indicates a rough week for Cyril Ramaphosa

2&3anc 55 National Conference 9722
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC's 55th National Conference. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)


Following a day of waiting, delayed delegate registrations and a less-than-warm reception from the comrades from KwaZulu-Natal, President Cyril Ramaphosa finally delivered his political report to the ANC’s 55th national conference.

It took nearly 30 minutes and the threat of a security intervention from ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe — and what appeared to be a dressing down from their provincial chairperson, Siboniso Duma — before the comrades from the kingdom stopped their chanting, banging on tables and generally out-of-order behaviour and allowed el jefe to continue unimpeded, if only for a while.

For a time it was touch and go — the small, but vocal, group were determined to stop Ramaphosa from delivering the political report, or sort of a state-of-the-party address combined with a stock take of achievements by the party — and his administration — since this time five years ago. 

Ramaphosa had just got going when his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, arrived with his entourage and a toxic twin for good measure — fashionably late and purposely disruptive — sparking another round of anti-Ramaphosa songs, chants and howling from Zuma’s fanbase, which appeared to be restricted to KwaZulu-Natal and a sliver of the Eastern Cape delegation.

Nxamalala looked rather pleased with himself — and appeared to have made another miraculous return from death’s door — when he took his seat, revelling in the heckling Ramaphosa was on the receiving end of, and his own 15 seconds of fame.

Former President Jacob Zuma. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

It must be nice for the old man to get out and about again, after a year and a bit of courtrooms and prisons only.

The Zumarites didn’t have much opposition from the Ramaphosa-leaning side of the conference hall.

The slow pace of registering delegates — stage six load-shedding and a lack of trust between Luthuli House and the provinces will do that — meant that the Ramaphosa-supporting provinces weren’t yet in the house when the heckling started, so KwaZulu-Natal had something of a free ride in giving the president hell.

They quieted down, for a while, but by the time Ramaphosa had gotten to the parts about how their heroes destroyed the state-owned entities and tanked the economy, the heckling gained momentum again.

It died down though. Perhaps the mass of facts and figures Ramaphosa ploughed his way through calmed the comrades from the kingdom, or bored them to sleep. Perhaps they got tired. But either way, Ramaphosa finally made it to the end of his 17-page speech.

From the tone of the opening session, Ramaphosa faces a torrid time over the next few days — especially from the KwaZulu-Natal contingent, who appeared to have committed themselves to collapsing the conference, despite their confidence that their presidential candidate, Zweli Mkhize, will close the conference next week.