Delegates attend the ANC conference in Johannesburg. Picture: David Naicker/Xinhua
Midnight isn’t called the witching hour for nothing. It’s traditionally a time when evil comes out to play, when the goblins, the gremlins, the ghosts and the witches are at their most powerful.

On Thursday morning, at quarter past midnight, Cyril Ramaphosa addressed what was left of the ANC faithful and the journalists at Nasrec near Soweto - and anyone else in the country who couldn’t sleep and was watching TV rather than counting sheep.

The fact that it took him that long to close the 54th National Conference of the ruling party tells you everything you need to know.

There were many things at Nasrec this week that went into the wee hours of the morning - starting with the voting for the Top Six of the ANC's national executive committee. It should have started last Saturday but there was a helluva ruckus about who could vote and who couldn't after three high courts banned three provincial executive committees, a raft of branches and scores of delegates in the Free State, North West and KwaZulu-Natal from attending in a hat-trick of judgments last Friday.

The delegates were eventually due to vote on Sunday afternoon, then Sunday night. By late that evening political commentators and reputable TV stations were all confidently reporting that voting had been sinisterly called off - but it never had been. The delegates went to vote, just under 5 000 of them, starting after midnight.

Cyril Ramaphosa addresses delegates during the closing of the ANC's elective conference
ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses delegates during the closing of the ANC's elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

The weeks and months running up to the conference had plumbed the depths of dirty tricks, with lashings of rumour and fake news.

I bumped into one of the dark knights of the dark night that Sunday evening; Carl Niehaus - a man whose name nurses at retirement homes use these days to get their charges to behave.

He's been clad all in black, literally from head to toe, since his campaign for Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to become the next president of the party began. I'm sure he thinks it's dashing, revolutionary.

The black Che Guevara-esque cap, the black golf shirt with a matching embroidered party logo - as opposed to his all-black fatigues with the uMkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association logo.

The truth is, as he approaches past the media lounge, on his way back from a guest appearance on ANN7, with his crabbing gait and his Voortrekker beard he looks more like a cross between a Pretoria North petrol attendant or a superannuated AWB Ystergard.

He’s one half of an election team that probably cost her the job. The other half is Bathabile Dlamini, the Minster of Social Services.

As Conrad Koch, or rather his alter ego Chester Missing puts it: “So Dlamini Zuma has a pathological incompetent who gave social grants to white-owned business and a white dude who fake killed his own mom for money, running her campaign. Lady, you’ve misunderstood the radical in radical economic transformation.”

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma looks on after losing out to the newly elected ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

There was a lot of humour at this week’s conference, particularly in the media lounge and the corralled open space beyond for approved members of the ANC to give briefings or be interviewed in the impromptu TV studios that had been set up on our side of the wire.

The old hands said it’s because the race is so tight that the organisers can’t face the risk of us contaminating the voting delegates by maybe persuading them to vote other than what they’ve been told to.

Maybe that’s why the alliance partners didn’t present their fraternal greetings at the beginning of the conference, as they’ve done since time immemorial.

Whatever the reason, Koch is justifiably the star of the show, his puppet Chester Missing is actually accredited to the conference.

His puppet alter ego is on TV and radio when he is not going about accosting politicians and doing live interviews - and the politicians love it. His twitter feed breaks the tedium of the delays.

He slaughters sacred cows with the abandon of a deranged cowboy.

There is no subject, no camp that is safe, not even the early morning breakfasts organised by the Progressive Business Forum: “Multichoice, who allegedly manipulated ANC policy to effectively block small black business getting in, apparently sponsored this mornings ANC business breakfast. The ANC’s small business minister is talking there now.

Jacob Zuma dances at the end of his report to the ANC elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

"It’s like hypocrisy inception out here.”

When Dlamini Zuma loses and ANN7 breaks the news before the ANC is able to officially announce the result, Kock weighs in again: “Poor Nkosazana, it’s k*k when the channel that told you you are South African of the year, owned by the people who have by association tarnished your moral integrity, decides you’re not the president before they know.”

And, after the Top Six are announced, and everyone’s trying to find positives in a split team: “The fuckery.

"Thinking this top six is balanced is like making cupcakes out of drain cleaner by adding 50% cupcake mix and telling everyone who complains it’s balanced.”

The truth is, there hasn’t been peace on earth and goodwill to all less than a week before Christmas here at Nasrec; its been a brutally contested space with some delegates getting physically stuck into one other, while others are ignoring Zuma’s entreaties briefing lawyers to challenge the results in court.

Delegates attend the second day of the African National Congress elective conference in Johannesburg. Picture: Themba Hadebe/AP

The delays have become the theme of the conference in itself. No one expected it, least of all the ANC. By the afternoon of the last day, the caterers have left. By late in the evening the technicians are stripping out the wifi routers in the media lounge and starting to dismantle some of the TVs, but Ramaphosa hasn’t even started to speak.

And even when he does, it will be only by 3am on Thursday when the NEC is finally announced - because that’s how long it has taken to fashion some kind of working consensus to let the conference finally conclude.

Some ANC delegates catch up on their sleep while they wait to be addressed by the outgoing ANC president Jacob Zuma. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency/ANA

Zuma famously started announcing his unilateral cabinet changes after 9 at night to wrong foot everyone, particularly newspapers. This though is heading into uncharted territory - vampires and zombies, the un-dead who live only to eat.

It’s not Ramaphosa’s fault. The only question is whether he’s going to staunch the zombie apocalypse or be subsumed by it.

Saturday Star