Just which way is the ANC electoral conference going to go?
Was Luke referring to some epic galactic battle including cutesy merchandisable space creatures? Or was he referring to the looming African National Congress National Electoral Conference, which is set to take place here on Earth on December 16, and will drag on for five (maybe more?) interminable, time-defying days.
As per Mr Skywalker, the conference is not going to go the way you think. Regardless of the algorithm or game theory or bone-rolling session applied to the problem, predictions are not just useless, but unnecessary. While the conference is official presided over by Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, it is spiritually overseen by Jacob Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, the single most predictably unpredictable politician in the galaxy.
Here’s what we sort of know: 5 240 delegates from nine provinces and three leagues will descend on Gauteng’s brutalist Nasrec Centre, a compound so miserably pokey that there could be no more perfect a location for a dying party’s last emphysemic gasp.
While their branches have officially nominated prospective candidates for the big six positions (example: Limpopo came out 391 in favour of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, and 104 in favour of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma), and while Ramaphosa is the nominal frontrunner at this stage, such information is only tangentially meaningful.
The furious lobbying, vote-buying and changes-of-heart that occur between the branches logging their preferences and the actual vote for leadership are so considerable that Hillary Clinton could feasibly fulfil her presidential aspirations in Gauteng.
Is it anyone’s race? Not quite. But even if one of the main contenders takes the party, this is still not going to the way you think. The State Security Agency is obsessed with Russian butt-kicking tactics, and there are rumours that they are prepared to engineer disruptions – sewerage leaks, electricity blackouts, ninja invasions.
Passions will be inflamed: we’re talking about members of a patronage syndicate fighting not only for their livelihoods, but in some cases for their lives. Security will be tight, but it cannot be tight enough.
No organisation should ever be allowed to grow as large or as powerful as the African National Congress, but humans are obsessed with mass and scale. So, the biggest, richest and most venerable liberation/political party in Africa is divided directly down the middle, and some form of compromise must be reached in order to avoid splitting the atom.
One such endeavour could see an expansion of the top six to a top nine, with the losing presidential candidate automatically installed as a second deputy president, while a second deputy general secretary will ostensibly further bridge the factional divide.
This, of course, is an absurd solution to an absurd problem, but it’s what the ANC does best: extend its own half-life while the rest of us are irradiated into oblivion.
The momentum is currently with Ramaphosa’s campaign, but like a sprinter breaking for the finish-line too soon, the billionaire buffalo wrangler is far too exposed, something that is advisable to avoid in the ANC.
And there remains the problem of what to do when Zuma goes: how to deal with a man and a syndicate that will do anything – anything – to stay out of jail and in the money?
These are gangster problems. That said, not everyone in the ANC is a criminal. Indeed, the vast majority of the party’s supporters comprised average folks trying to make it through their day. Not enough consideration has been given to the ideological difference between the Zuma/Ramaphosa factions, largely because no one trusts the Zuma faction, and Ramaphosa is an ideological vacuum filled with money.
But radical economic transformation and its attendant constitutional tweaks – land for everyone; banks for everyone; mines for everyone – becomes more pressing every day, because the shadow of apartheid lies darkly over this place.
Inside Nasrec’s dank halls, while the factional battles rage, a very real face off over the future of the country will take place out of sight, and therefore out of mind. Regardless of who wins, the immediate aftermath of the conference will plunge the country further into crisis. How can South Africa be fixed? Is the Constitution an inviolable document that serves as a lodestar for all of the decisions we make going forward? Or is it a piece of paper that begs to be scribbled over?
The ANC will only be partly responsible for answering these questions, because when the conference wraps up, if it takes place at all, the ANC will be dead. The splits have already begun. For the ANC, regardless of who wins their dreadful, dreaded conference, the future is not going to go the way it thinks.