Crucial conference outcomes have already been decided in private

The venue of the ANC's 54th national conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg. Important decisions concerning the party and country have already been taken somewhere else, says the writer. /WIKUS DE WET/AFP
The venue of the ANC's 54th national conference at Nasrec, Johannesburg. Important decisions concerning the party and country have already been taken somewhere else, says the writer. /WIKUS DE WET/AFP

Let's pray that, despite vote buying, demands of the puppet masters are the same as those of the country

In Kazuo Ishiguro's seminal novel Remains of the Day the narrator, a seasoned butler for one of England's most influential families, observes that decisions that impact the futures of countries, if not the world, are never reached at conferences during a handful of days under the public gaze.

"Rather, the debates are conducted and crucial decisions arrived at, in the privacy and calm of the great houses of this country.

"What occurs under the public gaze with so much pomp and ceremony is often the conclusion, or mere ratification, of what has taken place over weeks or months within the walls of such houses."

I couldn't help recalling these words as I reflected on the preparations for the ANC national conference which begins at Nasrec tomorrow.

The success or failure of the conference will have a lasting impact on the future of South Africa, for the internal machinations of the governing party always have a ripple effect on a country's economic wellbeing.

When ANC branches meet in Nasrec, the intention is to elect the next top six officials of the party, but, let's face it, the conference will only be finessing decisions that were made over the past weeks at some of the country's important houses - from Stellenbosch to Saxonwold, from Illovo to Nkandla.

In a public admission of shenanigans taking place behind closed doors in the build-up to the conference, Cyril Ramaphosa last weekend said: "Vote buying and patronage offering is just meant to frustrate the will of members and delegates. It is aimed at frustrating that democratic process that has been central in all this."

Vote buying - call it horse trading - does not start, and will not end, with the ANC.

It's an international phenomenon that lies at the percussively throbbing heart of real politik. That vote buying is an established tradition inevitably tells us that those who have money will always call the shots.

To put it bluntly, the captains of industry - call them white monopoly capital, or whatever epithet is fashionable this week - have a lot at stake here.

They will not allow politicians to stuff up the economy. Inevitably, they will anoint those candidates they are comfortable with.

The Guptas have showed us how this game is played. Except, dilettantes that they are, the Guptas played the game rather crudely.

Seasoned puppet masters know not to show their hand. The puppets must move with such fluid grace that the observer is inclined to forget that there is someone pulling the strings somewhere, but that skill comes with experience and patience.

The seasoned master knows he has to allow his puppets the illusion that they can exist without him; that they can do all the acrobatics and pirouettes without his involvement whatsoever. That they run the show.

Imagine Chester Missing suddenly being told that he is, in fact, the creation of someone; that he, in fact, cannot lift his hand, or open his mouth without the say-so of his master. Disaster!

That's where the Guptas got it wrong. They wanted everyone to know they were in charge. They got too greedy, too quickly. They even went public about their ANC membership. Fools.

Let's just pray that the demands of the puppet masters, who will watch the ANC show on TV from their homes in Stellenbosch and Illovo, coincide with the general interests of the country's future.

See? We're not a difficult lot. We're not asking for Glenmorangie, Mo�t & Chandon and Veuve Clic-whatever-whatever.

We'll be content with crumbs falling from the big table. At least for now.