To understand the thinking of the KwaZulu-Natal ANC rank and file, I made an effort of following party president Cyril Ramaphosa wherever he went as he crisscrossed the province, said to be enjoying the title of being “the ANC’s biggest support base”.
While Ramaphosa should be applauded for having devoted considerable time talking to the urban and rural masses, it is troubling to have noted that factionalism with tribal undertones is still entrenched in the province which the ANC leadership has, over recent weeks, so desperately tried to unite.
For unity and renewal of the ANC – especially in KwaZulu-Natal – to take off in earnest, it will not merely take papering over cracks or a massive public relations exercise, but true to the ANC vision, supporters have to be drilled that you do not need to be Zulu or hail from KwaZulu-Natal to be recognised as party president.
In disbelief, I watched the estimated 85,000-strong crowd’s reaction at the Moses Mabhida Stadium as Zuma took a proud stride, swaggered towards the main stage, and danced with the Umkhonto weSizwe performers, before taking a seat next to Energy Minister Jeff Radebe.
This was later followed by what should have turned out to be the grand arrival into the stadium of Ramaphosa, flanked by fellow top six officials.
Driven by a desire to create an impression, head of the ANC presidency Zizi Kodwa wasted no time in marshalling journalists towards a tunnel from where Ramaphosa was to emerge.
The arrival of the party boss with his lieutenants had to be different to that of Zuma, who merely popped out of the same tunnel and headed straight for the stage.
Ramaphosa and his team – dressed in white ANC caps – had to walk along the filled-up stands near the pitch to greet supporters. But the sight of their president waving at them did not seem to be enough to excite, compared to that of their homeboy, Zuma.
“Your president is here! Cyril Ramaphosa is hear! Viva president Cyril Ramaphosa!” was the cry on stage from ANC head of elections Fikile Mbalula.
As if that was not enough, another ANC national executive committee member, Nomvula Mokonyane, took to the stage in another failed attempt to whip up supporters to show appreciation for Ramaphosa, who was there to address them and cut the giant black, green and gold cake in marking the party’s 107th anniversary.
To the party leadership, perhaps the biggest sigh of relief was that Ramaphosa’s maiden election manifesto speech went on uninterrupted.
He was not booed – as happened with Zuma during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Gauteng or at the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ May Day rally. But many in the crowd did not approve of him as their leader.
Until the ANC addresses tribal and factional divisions that continue to bedevil KwaZulu-Natal head-on, it will remain a shadow of its former self.