It was a cruel spectacle, the political bloodsport of watching dreams crumble in excruciating increments.
Analyst Somadoda Fikeni called it the “wall of pain”, and for many the giant display at the IEC’s national results centre in Pretoria spelt slow but certain doom.
There were plenty of brave faces on show, but few winners by the time the counting was done.
It started on Wednesday night with an air of expectation, paid for in the sweat and lost sleep of a gruelling campaign, and boosted by the political amphetamine of voting day - the final, frenzied push to cajole, charm or downright coerce supporters to get to the polls on time.
Party representatives slept in their cars overnight just to be close to the IEC nerve centre, drawn to the flame of the voters’ verdict.
At first the results trickled in
. Then, in the early hours of Thursday, they came in a flood.
It was poison for some.
With half the votes counted, the question began to eat into erstwhile bravado - would there be enough votes even for just one seat?
It was touch and go for AgangSA and the PAC. For Azapo, the United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) and the Minority Front - all represented in the previous Parliament - the writing was on the wall. So too for newcomer the Patriotic Alliance.
Heads dropped and banter died on parched lips.
“It ain’t as good as we had thought it would be, but, being Christians, we have not lost hope,” said UCDP president Sipho Mfundisi. He too clung to the straw of outstanding ballots. They never came - at least not for him.
Mfundisi still had sympathy for the “not-so-fortunate” Agang.
“We still have tomorrow, but so far we are not happy, it’s a huge surprise for us,” said Azapo secretary general Kganare Leroka on Thursday. Tomorrow never came for Azapo either.
The irrepressible Patriotic Alliance secretary general Kenny Kunene declared the party had done “tremendously well”.
The words had no sooner left his lips than it was time to eat humble pie. A rolling maul of journalists swept across the floor, with President Jacob Zuma at the centre. He moved from table to table, congratulating even parties that could only be counted among the losers.
Kunene was among the victims pinned down by his party’s miserable display. Agang leader Mamphela Ramphele hadn’t turned up, nor Mosiuoa Lekota of Cope.
But the swarm moved, as if by instinct, away from the table of the Economic Freedom Fighters.
Then Zuma was sucked down an exit passage and was gone.
The buzz went with him and it was over - the creeping realisation of defeat, or total humiliation, hardening into certainty for the losers as the counted votes edged past 90 percent.
Pretoria News Weekend