Short Report

What the ANC needs is a priest‚ an undertaker and a headstone

20 December 2017 - 13:25 By Tom Eaton
Cyril Ramaphosa hugs Dr Nkosazana Dlaminiu Zuma after he won the ANC Preesidential race during the 54th ANC Elective Conference in Nasrec.
Cyril Ramaphosa hugs Dr Nkosazana Dlaminiu Zuma after he won the ANC Preesidential race during the 54th ANC Elective Conference in Nasrec.
Image: Masi Losi

There’s still a whole lot we don’t know. The whereabouts of those 68 votes‚ for example‚ and whether Cyril Ramaphosa will spend the next five years with one hand tied behind his back or both clamped in a pair of cuffs made in Saxonwold.

The first is that the ANC cares about maths. This came as a great surprise to me‚ given that the party has spent the last ten years ignoring all sorts of numbers: the 30-million who live in extreme poverty; the dozens of murders and hundreds of rapes every day; the R100-billion stolen by state capture; the 80% of schoolchildren who are illiterate.

It turns out all they needed to turn them into a group of hyper-focused‚ ultra-professional actuaries was 68 missing votes. (Or is it 63? Well‚ 30% is a pass so let’s just go with something above 20 and below 80.)

Apparently there’s nothing like the threat of losing your place at the teat of patronage to get those synapses crackling: Jacob Zuma took months to “apply his mind” to various court rulings‚ but this weekend he and his courtiers have shown an almost Einsteinian focus.

The second thing we’ve learned is that the ANC has not been hijacked by sinister elements.

This hijack story‚ you will recall‚ has been the popular narrative over the last few years. It’s been popular because it is fundamentally reassuring: hijackers‚ for all the fear and disruption they sow‚ are always a tiny minority‚ which offers the possibility of a quick and relatively bloodless end to the standoff. The ANC‚ we’ve been told‚ will go back to being the progressive force it once was as soon as it shrugs off these few villains.

The events of the last few days have ended that story once and for all. I stand open to correction but‚ by my count‚ Cyril Ramaphosa’s slate received a total of 14‚083 votes while Atul‚ sorry‚ I mean Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s slate received 14‚080. (They were competing in different races‚ but it’s worth noting that David Mabuza received more votes than Ramaphosa.)

Even if my tally is out by a few hundred‚ these numbers reveal a party that is 50% rotten. If the ANC was a person and corruption was gangrene‚ we’d be reading last rites.

Some of the country’s best analysts have suggested that Ramaphosa will soon start cracking whips and possibly heads. I hope they are right. It would make a welcome change from the smiling‚ waving cardboard cut-out that stood propped in a corner while the Zuma regime hollowed out the country.

After this week’s results‚ however‚ it’s clear that the ANC (at least in its current condition) doesn’t need a stern taskmaster. Unless Ramaphosa is about to reveal supernatural powers of courage‚ determination and persuasiveness‚ what the ANC needs right now is a priest‚ an undertaker and a headstone.