It was out with the old and in with the new as newly-elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa used the party’s birthday rally in East London to show how he is set on doing things differently – and this time it wasn’t necessarily about size. By CARIEN DU PLESSIS.
Some new energy has infused the ANC, which caused comrades to stream into the Buffalo City Municipality Stadium in East London from early morning already. Many of them had slept in their buses or cars as they arrived on Friday (all the inns were full, but most would have been unaffordable to the majority of them anyway), and then bathed with very little privacy on the beachfront the next morning.
Either way, East London streets, establishments and beaches have been yellow, green and black with ANC posters, banners and outfits since at least last weekend, and more so as party-goers from other provinces joined in by late Friday.
Shortly after 6 a.m. on Sunday some partygoers from the Free State were already in celebratory mode. “Happy birthday!” one shouted to passers-by. “Happy birthday, ANC!” he continued.
His friend, a councillor and branch chairperson, was policing the clothing of passers-by. A young man walked by wearing a T-shirt with President Jacob Zuma’s face, but the councillor ordered him to take it off and proceeded to give him a T-shirt with ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s face instead.
“See what I did here,” he explained. “We want unity now.”
Unity is what Ramaphosa has been preaching in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape all week, but instead of just being about the nice fuzzy feeling, it has been a tool for him to establish his power and to marginalise those who are still trying to protect Zuma.
The councillor used to defend Zuma, but said he grew tired of it after constant complaints from his branch members:
“Zuma can’t be trusted,” he said, and accused his defenders of not wanting to unite. “They don’t want to surrender the power,” he added.
By 8 a.m. the stadium, capacity 16,000, was full, and by 10 a.m., as stipulated, the programme started – without Zuma and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, who have in the past couple of days been behaving like mischievous best friends forever (Zuma re-established ties with Kenya in 2016, after years of suspicion and mistrust from South Africa’s side about Kenya’s support for the apartheid government).
Zuma and Kenyatta arrived about 30 minutes late, at the same time but in separate cars, and warmly greeted each other at the gate before they were ushered in. ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who is now the master of ceremonies at these events, told Zuma the party now started on time, and those who were late would be left behind.
It could well be that Mantashe is the general behind this starting on time effort. When he was secretary general, press conferences would kick off on the minute.
In the past, Zuma’s entry would have stopped the show because of the cheering. Now, when Mantashe introduced him, there was a fairly unanimous boo and thumbs down.
Mantashe didn’t correct them, but when it happened during Ramaphosa’s speech, the ANC president told the crowd to play nice.
He did emphasise, however, that he wanted a new ethos.
“This year we started our celebrations on time,” he said. “This is a clear signal. The NEC (national executive committee) at its first meeting (on Wednesday) also started on time, right on the dot. Nelson Mandela would have been very pleased to see that in starting our things on time, we respect each other, we respect our movement, we respect our people. From now on we want a new culture to spread to our party. From now our meetings must start on time.”
This doesn’t a new party make, but from the constitutionalism and equal rights preached in his speech, it’s clear Ramaphosa wants to foster more cohesion in the party and in the country, and the predictability of starting on time is one of the ways.
Photo: Supporters hold aloft material depicting newly elected ANC (African National Congress) President, Cyril Ramaphosa during the ANC’s 106th anniversary celebrations in East London, South Africa, 13 January 2018. EPA-EFE/STR
In his speech – which sounded like one of those fantasy State of the Nation speeches academics or journalists would sometimes write ahead of speeches delivered by Zuma – Ramaphosa threw enough shade on Zuma that there was none left for the journalists sitting on the grass in front of the stage, under a merciless East London sun.
The biggie was the prosecution of those involved in state capture and corruption. Ramaphosa thanked Zuma for recently establishing a commission of inquiry into state capture (even though it was at the last minute, and really to avert the heat) “in line with the findings of the Public Protector’s report”, and as Zumba’s face flashed on the live screens in the stadium, a strange ripple went through the audience. It wasn’t praise.
“We shall confront corruption and state capture in all the forms and manifestations that these scourges assume. This includes the immediate establishment of a commission of inquiry into state capture,” Ramaphosa said.
“Several key SOEs are in financial distress, threatening not only their own operations, but the national fiscus,” he said. There’s also been governance lapses and a poor delivery on their mandate, and through state capture billions of Rands were illegally diverted to individuals.
It’s clear from reports who is implicated in that.
Ramaphosa also called for anti-corruption efforts, law enforcement and intelligence to be stepped up.
In his speech he ticked the boxes that would show he is intent on building business confidence (promising more policy certainty, inviting investors here, etc), and he promised fee free education and land redistribution, but in a measured and incremental way.
He also said there should be a shared vision of radical socio-economic transformation in the county, to benefit all.
“We shall redouble our efforts to build a society in which black poverty and white privilege are consigned to the past, replaced by respect, solidarity and non-racial equality,” he said, adding non-sexism to the mix.
Painting the ANC as a leader of society, and cognisant of the live television broadcasts of the speech, Ramaphosa said “our organisation belongs to you, the people of South Africa”.
The ANC is the parliament of the people of South Africa, he said.
Ramaphosa must be aware that the party is trading in hope – and lately a bit of populism as well. The speech wasn’t rousing, but it was well-choreographed, with a singer stepping in as Ramaphosa mentioned struggle stalwart OR Tambo’s name in the last sentence (Ramaphosa knows that, unlike Zuma, his strength isn’t his singing and dancing).
A 50-something local government worker from Idutywa, who attended the rally, said the prospect of change gave him reason for optimism, but there was a cautious tone in his voice.
“We have hope that things will get better, but we will have to wait and see if that hope is good,” he said.
Ramaphosa’s style inspired confidence in him. “He wasn’t reading the speech from a paper,” he said, “and this shows he really means what he says.”
Modern technology, like autocue, really seems to work miracles.
A 30-year-old fruit-picker from Langkloof, four hours from East London, arrived late for Ramaphosa’s speech, but said she was excited about the change and unity message. When asked if Ramaphosa was better than what went before, she said:
“No, you can’t make comparisons with Zuma. We have to defend our ANC.”
Seven years ago Zuma came to this same Buffalo City to launch the ANC’s manifesto ahead of the general election where he became president. There was hope then, too, that Zuma would succeed in the areas where ousted and aloof president Thabo Mbeki had failed, that things would get better for the poor and neglected that Zuma had claimed to speak for.
There was a buzz and energy then, too.
Ramaphosa could prove to be able to generate enough optimism to carry the ANC through the 2019 general elections, but he is possibly also aware that, if the party messes up again, it will be out of luck the next time. DM
Photo: Newly elected ANC President, Cyril Ramaphosa sings before delivering the main speech during the ANC 106th anniversary celebrations in East London, South Africa, 13 January 2018. EPA-EFE/STR