FINDING THE LIGHTER SIDE: ANC president Jacob Zuma and deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa share a joke on the first day of the ANC’s fifth national policy conference held in Johannesburg last weekend.Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi

THE FOREMOST object of this article is to apply Charles Dickens’s “comparative dialectical epochs” to the incidental dynamics which underpinned the ANC’s national policy conference.
Fascinatingly, that gruelling policy conference has offered some stunning glimpses into the conflicting ideals, epochs and paradoxes of history.

That “festival of ideals” was an epic symbolism of a descriptive antagonism between “historical continuity” and “frozen dogmatism”. ANC president Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, are symbolic emblems of “frozen dogmatism” and “historical continuity” respectively. The draft policy documents which were fiercely discussed by delegates were somehow bound by hallmarks of epochal dialectics.

To best fathom the intrinsic philosophic connotations of that policy conference, one should first articulate on the quintessence of historical eternity.

History is not a study but a living picturesque of lived realities, conscious experiences and testable imaginaries. History is both the creator and product of human articulations, contributions, tribulations, accomplishments and travails. History is an unblemished, unbreakable mirror that showcases the limitation of our capabilities and the greatness of our imperfections.

Writers and narrators of history are not actually reciting past experiences, but are crafting a new world that is modelled on testable experiences, contemporary ingenuity and transcendental aspirations.

History lives indispensably in our yesterdays and thrives invincibly in our contemporary realities. The eternity of history lives in the depths and bosoms of our daily dreams, fears, aspirations, nightmares, joyous elations and unconscious imaginations.

The ANC policy conference laid bare the undying dynamic theatrics, histrionics and dialectical paradoxes of history.

In every conceptual phase of history, there will be an attritional contradiction between epochs, eras and conjunctures.

Attritional contestation between varied historical epochs characterised the policy warfare between the Zuma faction and the Ramaphosa camp.

Zuma and Ramaphosa have come to symbolise the antithetical epochal versions of historical contradiction. At that watershed policy conference, the Zuma camp represented a history that is trapped in repulsive stagnation, glorious hypocrisy and authoritarian populism.

On the other hand, the Ramaphosa faction epitomised a history that thrives on epochal reconstruction, leadership refinement and moral idealism.

As anticipated, the Zuma brigade strolled into the policy conference with a miscalculated intention to blackmail and hold history hostage.

The Ramaphosa faction was determined to salvage historical continuity from the doldrums of frozen dogmatism. Factional warfare over the definitional cogency of “white monopoly capital” illustrated the gravity of that attritional epochal antagonism.

In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens posits: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the moment of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the era of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

In manifold ways, the recent national policy conference was a classic juxtaposition of Dickens’s dialectical epochs. Sheer moments of inspirational courage co-existed with incredulous rants of imbecile buffoonery. On the first day of the policy conference, the Zuma faction brought to life “the age of foolishness” and “ the era of Darkness”. The Zuma loyalists tried, so unsuccessfully and unwittingly, to prevent ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe from delivering his “diagnostic organisational report”.

An overwhelming majority of delegates rebuffed and crushed such machinations by the Zuma sycophants. Limpopo ANC provincial chairperson Stanley Mathabatha was instrumental in supporting the deliverance of Mantashe’s report. While delegates favourably implored and nudged Mantashe to present the report Zuma’s bewildered facial expression conveyed the humiliation and vanquish.

The triumphant Ramaphosa faction celebrated that symbolic victory because it epitomised the downfall of “the age of foolishness”.

The “age of wisdom”, “the season of Light” and “the spring of hope” brilliantly captured the tone, analysis and contextual gist of Mantashe’s report.

In his blistering super-clinical report, the secretary-general blamed Zuma’s catastrophic presidential deficiencies for the chronic maladies and conundrums afflicting the ANC.

The fearless Mantashe lambasted the Guptas' toxic influence in government, the Nkandla corruption fiasco, state capture and endemic corruption. He admitted that: “Corruption has become an insipid cancer that is annihilating the moral cogency of the ANC The series of Gupta e-mails that are being released in tranches each day are causing severe harm to our movement.”

Mantashe also bemoaned the agonising decline of intellectual debates, ideological referencing and analytical expertise in the ANC. Consequently, ANC members and leaders have become poorer in analytical capacity, strategic imagination and introspective calculus.

In that hard-hitting, 24-page report, Mantashe elaborated: “There is a general decline at various leadership levels to anchor debates and discussions on basic policy documents This costly decline in political consciousness and ideological awareness makes our organisation severely vulnerable to divisions.”

Policy debates on “organisational renewal” and “radical economic transformation” also captured and exhausted the imaginations of most delegates. The “worst of times” arrived when delegates chose to expend two days arguing about the definition of “white monopoly capital”.

Any diligent apprehension of political economics would attest that “white monopoly capital” does not exist. It is just “a mythically concocted bogeyman” that only exists in the wildest imaginations of ultra-conservative hotheads.

Howling, heckling and juvenile demagoguery were occasionally orchestrated by the ANC Youth League (ANCYL)and Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association (MKMVA) delegates. This was not surprising at all because the current ANCYL and MKMVA leaderships are not associated with intellectual brilliance.

At the policy conference, it was conspicuously evident that the bearers of technocratic policy pragmatism, the Ramaphosa camp, were up against the boat-rocking, ultra-militant hotheads, the Zuma faction. Another “age of foolishness” was dramatised by Fikile Mbalula’s idiotic referral of anti-Zuma ANC MPs as “suicide bombers”. While Mbalula is a good-natured, sociable and kind-hearted politician, he lacks intellectual calculus and strategic visionary acumen. How could he, a highly seasoned NEC member, brand his fellow stalwarts (MPs) as terrorist suicide bombers?

The policy conference was indeed never short of hilarious episodes that depict “the age of foolishness” and “the worst of times”. The ANC Women’s League leadership, notably its president Bathabile Dlamini, foolishly hired 30 men to represent the organisation at the conference. The league’s leadership clearly lacks faith in the thousands of women they falsely claim to lead and represent.

The most controversial and incredulous ANC policy resolution was a proposition calling for the nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank (SARB). It is terminally unwise and logically insane to seek to nationalise a globally competitive fiscal-regulatory institution. The ANC government should rather propose to expand its shareholding within the SARB, and not to nationalise it. Nationalisation would erode the reserve bank’s fiscal-regulatory diligence and inflation-targeting brilliance.

Generally, the buffoonery forces of belligerence, led by Zuma, were vanquished by the Ramaphosa camp at the policy conference in an epic battle between idiosyncratic belligerence and pragmatic brilliance.

The conference proved that Zuma’s political power is waning and dwindling dramatically. The “epoch of incredulity” unfolded when Zuma, in his closing speech, pleaded with party members to embrace a presidential power-sharing deal, in which a losing presidential candidate would automatically become the party’s deputy president. Fortunately, hundreds of delegates furiously shook their overburdened heads in disapproval of Zuma’s unconstitutional proposition.

He is evidently aware his ex-wife is likely to lose the presidential contest to Ramaphosa at the party’s elective conference in December. This proposal by Zuma and his KwaZulu-Natal ANC is aimed, illicitly, at preserving political power within the Zuma clan. During the fractious 2007 Polokwane conference and the high-stakes 2012 Mangaung conference, Zuma never initiated that presidential power-sharing scheme. Why now?

It is clear the Zumas are fast losing political power and hegemonic dominance, and that is good news to all patriotic South Africans.

Masoga is a political analyst

The Sunday Independent