ANC policy conferences over the years have largely been academic exercises where delegates would come together to review and evaluate policies and strategies in relation to it as a governing party.
It is on this platform where the battle for ideas takes place. Matters of principle and concern are dealt with in general terms.
The ANC’s fifth national conference, however, took place when the party was at its lowest ebb. Its support base is fast dwindling as those who have previously given the party a strong mandate to govern are either looking for different political homes, or merely withholding their votes in rejection of the party.
At the heart of the ANC’s fast-eroding popularity is the view of many that the party has taken its electoral mandate and handed it to a single family, which seemingly controls the running of the state and its president.
The Gupta family featured prominently in the party’s diagnosis report delivered by Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary-general.
Their influence on key ministry appointments, alleged looting of state coffers and diversion strategies through controversial consultancy firm Bell Pottinger have stuck out like a sore thumb.
Nine out of 11 commissions agreed that the “white” in the “white monopoly capital” narrative be excluded. This narrative was created by Bell Pottinger on behalf of the Guptas and pushed through different mediums to steer attention away from the alleged feeding of the family and those it controls at the trough.
Questions have been asked if the policy conference achieved what it had sought to achieve. The simple answer is no.
It is clear that prima facie evidence of criminality in relation to the Guptas exists. Worse yet are recent allegations of the theft of more than R200 million paid to the Guptas for a dairy farm project in the Free State – under then agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane. R30 million of that money paid for a Gupta family wedding in Sun City.
But no one in the ANC is calling for criminal charges to be laid. Political interests come first as leaders wait for the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture.
Most of us remember how enthusiastic ANC leaders were about the arms deal commission that found no wrongdoing, despite the avalanche of evidence brought forward.
Party leaders and delegates have been candid that the ANC is hurting. Never before did it occur to party members of the looming risk of losing national elections until now.
Delegates even went as far as proposing strategy formulation on how to become an effective opposition party.
The fissures in the party are such that party seniors are also scrambling to come up with compromise positions that will potentially see the loser of the December national conference become the deputy of the winner.
But the reality is that this conference has just been another exercise in stating the obvious without concrete movement on glaring issues – especially about dealing with the alleged corruption of the Gupta family.
As far as the show of force is concerned at this conference, one can safely assume that President Jacob Zuma is still in charge and that there’s no skin off his back.