WHEN the ANC’s policy indaba draws to a close later this week, and when all the pluses and minuses are totted up, the person who will have the most to contemplate will be President Jacob Zuma.
In politics, there is a fine line between a moment of mind-boggling inspiration and an instance which observers will remember long afterwards as an example of a monumental mess-up. We believe that Zuma messed up badly. In trying to crush the increasingly critical grouping of ANC veterans and stalwarts, we believe he over-estimated his popularity among the branches of the ANC.
It is true that the veterans have moved away from their previous position of offering to help an increasingly troubled ANC to resolve a range of difficult problems, to wanting to play a bigger, more decisive role in nursing the organisation back to full, robust health.
It is true too that the veterans have been scathing in their opinion of the strength and expertise of the branches.
And it is certainly true that many of these stalwarts, perhaps the majority of them, believe that Zuma should step down from the presidency.
This criticism is not something Zuma would have liked.
And in an auditorium filled with up to 5 000 delegates, he obviously believed himself to be among supporters.
And so he decided to grab the opportunity, telling delegates that the veterans believed they were superior to them.
But the expected roar of outrage did not occur. Small pockets expressed support for Zuma, but the rest were silent.
Far from silent though was stalwart Sydney Mufamadi, who accused the president of distortion and of being economical with the truth.
“South Africa is in a crisis – and it is only the president who doesn’t seem to realise this,” Mufamadi said.
Even more significant though was the response of a serving member of Zuma’s cabinet, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. “I did not think he would launch an attack like that on the veterans. He is bigger than that.
“I wasn’t happy – and I couldn’t hide it,” she said.
The ANC veterans and stalwarts are highly regarded by the majority of ANC members and, indeed, by members of the public at large.
We believe Zuma was out of line – and for this there should be consequences.