Angst and acrimony: the birth pains of a new dispensation

AND SO THE ANC Conference has begun, already seething with acrimony and intrigue. For the first time in the history of the ANC has vehement dissent and brazen partisanship captured a conference. The organisation will never be the same again – and in accordance with having to move with the times – I daresay that’s not a bad thing.

It might be the Day of Reconciliation but this is clearly lost on the belligerent delegates whose behaviour marks the belated transition of a liberation movement to a political party. Yes, the boos, the heckling, the all-round raucousness and lack of respect for party elders (especially those associated with Mbeki, such as Terror Lekota) may be immature, but behind the childish antics lies a poignant indication that the party’s grass roots are at last prepared to vent their anger, to speak out, to break the silent unity that held together and homogenised a movement through the tempestuous decades of the struggle.

As the distance between today and apartheid grows, so does the frustration of many ANC delegates – people who believe the current NEC (National Executive Council) has given them a rough deal. The angry hecklers feel marginalised and betrayed by an elite they believe are intent on enriching only themselves. Today division in the ANC has been catalysed by class and the widening gap between the aspirant (mainly urban) rich and the forgotten rural poor.

The bourgeoisie ruling class, typified by Mbeki, has become, over time, reviled by the masses who have been seduced by Zuma’s charisma and empathy. This is a masterstoke of public relations, as Jay Z is as much of a “caviar kid” as the flashiest of Mbeki’s Gucci-loafered acolytes.

I wonder what Nelson Mandela – the man who personifies reconciliation and statesmanship – thinks of all this. His erstwhile attention-seeking wife had a point to make about unifying the party “for Madiba’s sake”. Judging by the way today’s proceedings have unfolded, this hasn’t washed with delegates. Sadly the party is looking on our former president – and his continuing legacy – as an irrelevance.

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