Election manifestos are promises; in many elections, the party with the best promises wins. But there's a caveat: those promises and aspirations should somehow be connected with reality. In South African context, no-one should promise a tender for every home, and get away with it. But you can certainly make people hope and dream. And then get them to vote for you. The ANC's 2014 election manifesto as an interesting mix of all of this, with plenty of spice to make the recipe more appetising. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
For all the criticism the ANC receives, one thing has remained remarkably constant. Its internal party documents, particularly about policy, are usually quite honest. There’s often a measure of self-criticism, which many other parties around the world would shy away from, particularly in public.
But if you were to expect some more of that as President Jacob Zuma delivered the ANC’s annual January 8th Statement, you’d be mistaken. This is, after all, an election year. And this set-piece speech was doubling as the release of the ANC’s election manifesto. In the past, Zuma hasn’t really done too well at these things. Sometimes the stadium hasn’t been entirely full, or the audience hasn’t really given any indication that it cared. That was not the case here. Every seat had a person in it. Almost all of them in ANC colours. And all of them disciplined. The Women’s League sat in green, most people sat in yellow; here and there was a splodge of red.
Since it’s an election year, some of that self-criticism has given way to a bit of hyperbole. In 2014, it makes good political sense for the ANC to include a long list of how life has got better for everyone over the last twenty years. It’s a good reminder of the ANC’s role during the Struggle, and yet also gives voters, twenty years later, a reason to vote for the party once more.
But then it is difficult, to put it mildly, to sustain the claim that “on the economy and jobs, the last five years has been a period of unprecedented growth and development in this country”. Really? The last five years? Weren’t we in a recession for part of that time? Wasn’t there that moment when we lost virtually all the new jobs we had created over the years? It’s not that that was all the ANC’s fault; when the Eurozone gets a sniffle, we do have a tendency to get full-blown Spanish Influenza. It’s just that you shouldn’t claim that that the period has been one of “unprecedented growth” when it is easy to prove it hasn’t been like that. And even if that’s debatable, don’t start the debate; don’t give your enemies something to attack you with.
Which brings us nicely to the ANC’s main promises on the economy. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt over the years, it’s that the most interesting debates within the party centre around economics. It’s where the communists and the workers take on that well-known singer of “I’m a communist, I’m a communist”, Cyril Ramaphosa. So, as always, it was the part of the manifesto I turned to.
And was greeted by the promise to “create six million work opportunities over the next five years”. Wow! Six million. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? Considering, other manifesto claims aside, that we haven’t created that number of jobs over the last ten years, really. Remember that State of the Nation Address in 2010, when the same man promised five million jobs? That most certainly did not happen. In fact, we started to lose jobs just before that speech.
However, context matters here. What seems to be the idea in this manifesto, if we understand it correctly, is that this may be a bid to copy a policy from India, where certain groups of people were given the “right” to work for 100 days a year. That millions of households had at least some income coming some of the time. The work, of course, was on public infrastructure projects; the programme was fairly successful, and is something certainly worth imitating.
While many, from within and outside of the Alliance, will complain that that is not “decent work” or a “proper job”, it has to be conceded that any kind of work at all has to better than living on a grant, which has to be better than living on nothing at all.
The other big economic half-promise is to “investigate the modalities of instituting a national minimum wage” to reduce inequality. The language here is interesting. “Modalities” is almost Mbekist speak. And what does this really mean? If cynical citizens half-believe cast-iron promises from politicians in election manifestos, then this surely would be seen as vague and fanciful way to a complete non-starter.
And that’s all before you consider the implications for the new plan to create these six million jobs, because they presumably would be people paid by government. Which could then find it has to pay a minimum wage. Oops. One may find that you could have the jobs, or a minimum wage, but not both.
The ANC has always had a laudable commitment to improving education and health provision. These two sectors take up a massive proportion of our GDP, and the ANC knows that it has to get these right to keep the voters happy. So instead of the ritual “Teachers will be in class on time, teaching, for seven hours a day” from Zuma, we had more of a commitment to improving the quality of teaching through “interventions in curriculum development, and teacher training”.
If there were going to be any booing at any time, it would have come from teachers’ union SADTU at this point. There was silence.
And then there’s health, where the ANC has a bit of a hate-hate relationship with the private sector at the moment. So along with the routine promise to improve government hospitals was a promise to “reform the private healthcare sector, to radically cut costs”. If there is anything that could bring the urban middle-classes back to the ANC under Zuma, it would be achieving that. But unfortunately those classes are going to be too worried about whether “reform” just means meddling in a system that, while hugely expensive, still does work. And a parent in an emergency room is not someone to mess with, under any circumstances.
The ANC’s key to the future development of our health system is the National Health Insurance Scheme, which is due to be rolled out over the next twelve years or so. (Heavy on the “or so”, by the way.) Zuma claims in his speech that once it’s fully implemented, this programme “will ensure no poor South African dies because they don’t have the money for health treatment”. It’s a vote-winner for sure, if it corresponds to reality. The key to that is not mucking about with private healthcare, but fixing government hospitals. And Dr Aaron Motsoaledi is a busy man on this score at the moment. Good luck to him, and more power to his elbow.
Something slightly unexpected was the change in tone on corruption. Speaking while Julius Malema was being denied access to his Nkandla home/village/residence/homestead/complex/firepool/arena/astroturf pitch, Zuma seemingly saw no irony in announcing “tougher measures” against corruption. The eye-catcher here is the promise that any ANC representative found “guilty in a court of law will be expected to resign from any position they hold in government, the ANC and society”. Oh, really? That will be fun to watch. The conspiracy theorists who still somehow believe Ramaphosa will take over from Zuma before April will have fun with that one. No doubt someone will claim it’s part of a plot to get Zuma out.
Of course, don’t believe it. And don’t believe the promise, either, because it is only a matter of time before another ANC high-ranker is found guilty of something/anything. In fact, it could be argued this is a bit of a climb-down. At Mangaung the ANC seemed to resolve that any member who is criminally charged should resign from their position until the situation is resolved. Now that seems to have been changed to “found guilty in a court of law”.
As always with these big set-piece events, the news story is not in the speech or the manifesto, but what happens on the sidelines. Perhaps the star of the show, apart from Jacob Zuma of course, was Cosatu President S’dumo Dlamini. He’s currently embroiled in complicated fights within Cosatu, amid speculation that the National Metalworkers Union of SA is about to leave, as part of the divide over the suspension of general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi. So to say that he started by singing a song referring to Zuma as the “shepherd” that leads us, is to say that he didn’t just nail his colours to mast, he nailed himself to the mast and is now firmly stuck to the Zuma Tsunami. He also had plenty to say to those considering leaving Cosatu, that they “shouldn’t run away… they must engage”. Considering Numsa’s current mood, it just doesn’t seem possible for them to change course now. But Dlamini also set terms: “The unity of Cosatu is not a playing field”. In other words, you can’t get what you want by threatening to stop playing, and to take your ball with you when you go.
Zuma himself made a rare reference to internal divisions when he said that “we must guard against those elements trying to divide the alliance”. Whether that is a declaration that Numsa is now an enemy is a judgment the reader must make until the future events clarify it.
Overall, this is an election manifesto that should set the party in good stead for these polls. It covers all the bases, and is a good mix of aspiration, reality, and hope. Those economic promises are likely to be hard to keep, though. But that doesn’t matter now. They are a problem for after people vote, not before. And on a first reading, it doesn’t seem that radical economic change is on the way, unless the pledge to give six million people jobs blows a massive hole in the budget, and creates a huge deficit.
Of course, this report would not be complete without a mention of the word we didn’t hear at all on Saturday; the word “boo”. Of Zuma’s enemies, there was not a sign. He is massively popular in Mpumalanga, and the machinery there worked hard and effectively for him, and for the ANC. The stadium was full long before he spoke, and he received the kind of reception he usually gets in parts of the Kwa-Zulu/Natal. And it showed when he spoke. He was large, and in charge. Which means he knew he was on firm ground.
Which should really, finally, once and for all, put an end to theories, calls, desires and pipe-dreams, that he will not be the face of the ANC’s election campaign. And the face of government for another five years.
Start getting used to it. DM
Photo: South Africa’s President and leader of the ruling ANC party Jacob Zuma (C) greets his supporters as he arrives for the launch of his party’s election manifesto at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit January 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ihsaan Haffejee
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