All dressed up and nowhere to go: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Bathabile Dlamini at the gala dinner. Picture: GALLO IMAGES / NETWERK24 / FELIX DLANGAMANDLA
All dressed up and nowhere to go: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Bathabile Dlamini at the gala dinner. Picture: GALLO IMAGES / NETWERK24 / FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

The ANC’s 54th national conference was a surprisingly dry state of affairs. The sun was scorching,
the delegates’ shirts were inoffensive, and when the rival factions sang
songs of unity together, it was surprisingly out of rhythm for a party whose members can sing.

Perhaps the culprit was the lack of booze. At its last conference in Mangaung, Bisquit cognac flowed freely. The party even extended the courtesy to journalists who covered the event.

This time, the 1,000-odd journalists covering the event were, by circumstance, sober. Only a few rebels sorting out their nerves, courtesy of their own boot bars. The food served by the ruling party was serviceable, but the virtues of the pudding cannot be understated. Had there been a vote for the Nasrec trifle, you can bet 68 votes wouldn’t have vanished.

Perception became everything. In the two days leading up to the vote at Nasrec, huge caucus meetings of delegates supporting either Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana-Dlamini Zuma took place. It was a visual numbers game: the caucuses counted heads and spread images to brag about whose
was bigger.

Dlamini-Zuma’s camp met in the December heat, singing about the hope of a woman president; Ramaphosa’s caucus met in the dark, with cellphone screens illuminating the crowd of faces who saw him as a new hope for the divided ANC.

Until that point, many veteran ANC members had remained coy about saying who they supported. In the dead of night, they nailed their colours to the mast. ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa tweeted: "Though we are in a holiday season, South Africans are depressed, we need a leader to change the mood of the country, SA needs a ‘Cyril moment’."

Premature celebration:  Gala dinner held in honour of  Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on December 13. Picture: GALLO IMAGES / NETWERK24 / FELIX DLANGAMANDLAT
Premature celebration: Gala dinner held in honour of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on December 13. Picture: GALLO IMAGES / NETWERK24 / FELIX DLANGAMANDLAT

In the plenary, the tension was palpable ahead of the announcement, as the 4,700 delegates waited to see if they had mustered the numbers.

To some extent, the faces of the party’s national executive betrayed the results. And when Ramaphosa was declared the winner, half of the plenary erupted. Half of KwaZulu Natal was elated, while the rest sat silently, echoing the gloom of Dlamini-Zuma’s supporting provinces.

Lindiwe Sisulu, who lost out as deputy president to David Mabuza, looked particularly livid. ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini burst into tears and had
to be consoled in a small room in the media lounge. Afterwards, the bumbling Dlamini told journalists that the party had "regressed on the issue of women", saying "patriarchy has once again reared its ugly head".

Yet when asked if she’d voted for Mabuza or Sisulu as deputy president, Dlamini could only mumble that her vote was a "secret".

She wasn’t the only one of Ramaphosa’s critics to taste this particular Nasrec vintage of humble pie.

Carl Niehaus, the disgraced spokesman for the Umkhonto WeSizwe Military Veterans Association, and ANC Youth
League president Collen Maine had to go on national television and welcome "comrade Ramaphosa", even though they’d
earlier derided him as the face of white monopoly capital.

Considering their particular faction had spent many years at the trough, both of them seemed uncomfortable with the generous portion of humble pie dished up.

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