Zumanomics: Politics by numbers

By Stephen Grootes 21 September 2011

Here at the Daily Maverick, we like numbers. We think they go well with politics. And so when we get a nice big dose of them, we like to chew on them for at least five minutes before sending them on for further digestion. Because numbers matter. They tell you things. What people are thinking, and what they are likely to be thinking. In other words, they tell you the future. And on Monday ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe gave us some numbers that make us look again at Rule Number One of South African Politics. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

It wasn’t a large number of numbers, but numbering among them was the number that was numerically important. That would be the number that shows the ANC is growing, and growing fast. At the time of the Polokwane conference (if you don’t remember…it rained…a lot – generally on Thabo Mbeki’s head), Mantashe says the party had 621,000 members. Now, a full year and a few months before its next conference at Mangaung (where rain in December is a little less prevalent), it has 933,000 members. That’s growth of 50%. A lot.

This has huge implications. One of them is very worrying for Mantashe. It’s that newer members to the ANC aren’t steeped in the movement’s culture, its ways, how it does things. In other words, they’ve been attracted for the wrong reasons. They’re joining the ruling party because it’s the ruling party and not because it’s the ANC. As a result, the party’s traditions are under threat. But that’s not going to stop the ANC from going for the big “One Million Members” target. It’s a campaign the party has been running for some time, and it really does want that number of people to have paid up their membership fees (R12 each) for its centenary celebrations. The numbers Mantashe has given us are audited figures, so it seems pretty likely the ANC will make its target.

But this has other implications. For a start, what is the age profile of these newer members? You may remember there is a bit of a battle underway for the ANC right now, between those of a younger persuasion, Julius Malema et al., and those of a slightly more mature vintage, Cosatu and the SACP etc. The way we figure it, the Youth League has about 360,000 members. So then, ran my question, how many of the new members were under 35 (being the League’s cut-off point)? The answer was, predictably, that the ANC doesn’t really know. But Mantashe was at pains to point out that they are making a bigger effort to profile their members. Essentially, they need to know age, gender, race and class. The first two are usually easy to answer, the, second two… not so much.

The race of the ANC’s membership is beginning to be an issue. There’s a realisation that it’s not the “non-racial” movement it was in the past, and it is becoming more of a party with “a bias towards Africans in particular”. It’s tricky. But I for one am glad they’re noticing. Already in Youth League conferences there is very little brown, never mind no white whatsoever. And while that doesn’t really matter for now, it does if you think that the League is the ANC of the future. It would not be cool for the ruling party to be all of one race. Getting around this problem is a tricky one though.

Now, on to the provinces. There’s been a big change here. The Eastern Cape has always been the biggest ANC province, one reason why Thabo Mbeki lost only 60-40 in 2007. But the province now has 220,000 members. KwaZulu-Natal now has 240,000. This is all about the Zuma factor, and the death of the IFP. The two are of course inter-related. On the one side, the IFP has been allowed to die by its ailing leader. It’s been easy for the ANC to scoop up these votes. Add the Zuma factor, a Zulu leader of the ANC, who is brilliant at campaigning on his home patch, and you can see how this has happened.

Of course this is good news for Zuma. It means that he has a bigger power base to operate from. But there is a reason for caution. These are all new ANC members. Their support is softer than say in the Eastern Cape. These are people who either belonged to the IFP, or have not belonged to a political party before. The ANC isn’t in their blood in the way it is in say, the Eastern Cape. So it’s a big number, it’s politically important, but it’s not necessarily long-term rock-solid support.

Then we need to look north. We don’t have figures for all the provinces unfortunately. But there was one important number that Mantashe let slip. In Limpopo, the ANC has 84,000 members. That’s less than Gauteng with 93,000. But it’s a fraction of KZN’s figure. Limpopo doesn’t have the populations of those two provinces sure, but when you look at the maths of ANC branches that send delegates to conference, well, suddenly it all becomes clear. Malema’s home base is around a third the size of Zuma’s. Hold on, perhaps Mantashiavelli didn’t “let slip” anything.

Then we have the gainers and losers in terms of membership. There’s been big gains in KZN, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga. That all makes sense. But look at the losers. Limpopo is one. What is going on there? You would think that with the Youth League pushing as hard as it is to get more members, it would be one of the growth areas. It’s not. An indication perhaps of how Malema and the province’s premier Cassel Mathale are concentrating on, well, other things. The North-West is supposed to be another area of growth. One of the best organisers the ANC has is Fikile Mbalula, and he’s a known operator there. And yet in terms of numbers, it’s just not happening. And then there’s the Northern Cape. That’s really the DA’s next target ground. It is a comment on the ethnic make-up of the area. Coloured people there, like other minorities, have started to leave the ANC.  Finally, there’s the ANC’s disaster area, the Western Cape. Numbers are, of course, down there too. At this point, it’s hard to see how the ANC is going to fix that province. It’s just lost the plot entirely.

Overall, from the picture we have – and it is not complete – it’s easy to see why Zuma and Mantashe are looking so confident at the moment. They’ve looked at the numbers, they’ve done the maths. And of course politics is far more complicated than just provinces. But the way provinces do appear to vote for leaders as a bloc means these numbers are important indicators of the state of play. Two weeks before Polokwane, the provinces indicated which way they would go, and the numbers turned out to be pretty much the final numbers. And so, back to Rule Number One: Do not bet against Jacob Zuma. DM




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