Soweto, South Africa – In the end, it was only 179 votes that separated the two candidates.
Cyril Ramaphosa, a former mining magnate and now the new president of the African National Congress (ANC), hugged his rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
The Nasrec Expo Centre erupted – there was dancing, singing, and cries of laughter. A buoyant ANC roared.
Amid the endless coronations, protocols, the hall simmered.
It was easy to forget, if only for a second, the violence, the poverty, the dissent, the tragedy of inequality outside.
Here, in the plenary, the party revelled in its perceived invincibility.
One of South Africa’s wealthiest people, he ran on a campaign to fight corruption and increase economic growth.
Ordinary citizens across the board are relieved that Zuma’s preferred candidate didn’t win; state corruption is the devil incarnate and common perception is that the pillage has to end.
To have the South African president “place” his ex-wife (regardless of her qualification or experience) was seemingly unthinkable.
Markets responded positively even before official results were released.
Ramaphosa was either seen as the stable candidate or as someone who represents business interests.
Zuma, of course, has always ridden a populist wave, promising radical change, transformation; he scared white interests and duped the poor, while only really protecting his own interests.
And yet, when the results were announced, not everyone in Nasrec was on their feet.
Certainly not Zuma, whose face twisted and turned and found itself caught between a smile, frown and grimace.
In the minutes before the announcement, Zuma, sat in the shade of this ANC-branded baseball cap, fiddled with his phone. He knew this fight had been lost, but the battle had yet to conclude.
Certainly not Dlamini-Zuma. She sat with her shoulders slumped, while Ramaphosa danced and walked around, dazzling as he spoke to fellow members of the executive.
Certainly not all delegates. For every person who stood up to cheer, there was another sitting, looking skeptically into the void.
There were, remember, only 179 votes between the two after all.
This was not a landslide endorsement of any one policy, or personality, or idea.
It just turns out that 179 more delegates believed that Zuma’s time to eat was up, or that Dlamini-Zuma was inadequate, or that Ramaphosa’s commitment to end corruption was believable, or that his approach to policy would be more plausible.
We will never know exactly why the vote went the way it did. All we know is that Ramaphosa didn’t win by much.
As he enjoys victory, the top six of the ANC are split almost down the middle.
There is, in reality, no evidence that this is a party that wants a turnaround.
There is even less evidence to suggest that Ramaphosa would do the right thing as leader.
When it came to Zuma’s improper spending at his private home, Nkandla, Ramaphosa remained silent.
When it came to believing Zuma’s version of the rape allegations against him in 2007, Ramaphosa worked and deputised for the president willingly and then – when it was politically expedient to do so – said that he believed the rape accuser.
Then there is the case of Marikana.
It is a fact that he asked police, as a non-executive director of Lonmin at the time, to clamp down hard on strikers, in the run-up to the massacre of 34 miners at the hand of police in August 2012.
He was acquitted by a Commission of Inquiry, but the question of culpability still hangs over him.
It is not so much that he is believed to have caused the killings, but there is something of a cruel irony at play.
Ramaphosa chaired the National Union of Mineworkers for nine years but has since turned into the saviour of large capital.
Perhaps this is why the markets responded positively to him; traders know the depths to which he would go to defend the status quo. In fact, this is the only thing we can be sure of.