South Africa

South Africa

Preview: Let’s party like we’re 103

Preview: Let’s party like we’re 103

On Saturday the African National Congress will throw what it hopes will be the biggest political party of the year, it’s annual January 8th Statement, at the Cape Town Stadium. It’s the party’s bid to set the tone for the political year, to set out its stall of what it will achieve in 2015, and a chance to get a few quick political hits in nice and early. But it’s also about policy, with priorities outlined during the set piece speech by the leader expected to reflect in the State of the Nation Address, and then the budget. As a result, the best way to make predictions about 2015 is to closely watch the ANC this weekend. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

As the ANC celebrates it’s 103rd birthday, outsiders would think the party is in rude health. It won 62% of the vote in last year’s elections, it controls eight of the nine provinces, and no one anywhere seriously thinks it will lose control of the country in 2019. Its leadership structures are working, there’s a succession plan (with options) in place, and it literally sets the political agenda in a way no other party has managed for the last 20 years. Almost every political party in almost every other democracy around the world would be very happy to be in the position the ANC is in right now.

Thus it would be perfectly human of President Jacob Zuma to focus on that aspect of things when he takes the stage on Saturday. There must surely be a huge temptation to focus on the past, on what the ANC has done up until this point, rather than on looking forward.

There is likely to be more on spreading electrification than on load shedding. There will also be much made of the matric results, and of the government’s ‘successes’ in the education sector generally. Zuma is likely to repeat his refrain that “teachers must be in class, on time, teaching, for seven hours a day”. There will be comments about the fight against crime, some sort of bland, virtually meaningless statement about fighting corruption, and a look back at how many people are now receiving anti-retroviral drugs.

Considering the event is taking place in Cape Town, it would be natural to assume that Zuma would make much of the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) ‘Apartheid policies’ and ‘influx control’ measures. He is unlikely to stoop that low. (But only because the people who speak first will that do that for him.)

It is tradition at these events for the members of the alliance to give “messages of support”. This will see the ANC Youth League, the ANC Women’s’ League, the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), and yes, even the South African National Civic Organisation (Sanco), speaking briefly ahead of the main speech. Each of these is likely to have a full-blooded go at the DA, and the government of the Western Cape. Expect the Youth League to be more emotional, and Blade Nzimande to be more, well, cutting. Also, it will be interesting to see who the main target of their ire is. Is it the DA, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), or the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa)? The answer could tell us whom the ANC fears most at this moment.

However, when the Cosatu leader speaks, pay attention. First off, who will it be? For a while it’s been Cosatu President S’dumo Dlamini, when its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi had done it in the past. Considering Vavi’s strong criticism of the ANC, and its policies of late, and his perceived closeness to Numsa, (who have now been expelled from Cosatu) it is possible it won’t be him. But whoever it is, it’s important to see if they’ll use the most public of all stages in South Africa (the event will be live on free-to-air SABC TV and on most of its radio stations) to rail again against e-tolls. If they do, the fight is still on, if they don’t, that might tell us something else.

When Zuma himself stands up, the first question that will be asked is how does he look, how’s his health? After that long period of “rest” last year, his health seems to be the only variable that could cut short his time as Number One. For the moment, he seems fit and well. But that is unlikely to put questions about his health to bed completely.

It has become almost a tradition at ANC rallies for the crowd to thin out slightly during the main speech. This is partly because the noon sun starts to get really intense at this point, and partly because, well, they’re usually so boring. If there’s one thing both Zuma and his predecessor Thabo Mbeki share at these gatherings, it’s the lack of writing and energy put into their speeches. It is almost unbelievable that it will not be be set piece, or off the cuff. Instead, there is likely to be a fairly lengthy drone. Which is a pity, really; if you were a political leader with two hours of free TV time, you should be expected to make the most of it. However, based on past performance, it would probably be a mistake to get one’s hopes up.

More interesting will be the issues that are not in the speech. You could probably bet your house that the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) will not be mentioned. All the issues that currently dominate the news agenda, that make headlines, will be left out of the script. There is likely to be very little real attempt to get to grips with the main problems we face. A bland comment about trying to grow the economy is unlikely to give those currently unemployed much hope. And probably won’t please those who work in buildings with the word ‘Moody’s’ on the front either.

Also unlikely to be in the speech is any mention of what is quickly turning into Zuma’s nemesis, the EFF. Equally unlikely, Nkandla, in any way, shape or form.

ANC events tend to be about more than just words. They are also, and increasingly so, about the show, the sound, the lights, the razzmatazz of it all. This usually reaches full force just after Zuma’s speech ends (probably with a brief mention of the international situation and perhaps a word or two on Cuba and the Middle East). Normally, there are fireworks, singing and music. It’s been claimed that the spoilsports at the DA-run City of Cape Town may damp down on the fireworks this time, but the singing, led by Zuma, is likely to be a highpoint. It’s the part of the rally you don’t want to miss, the bit where everyone gets involved, where almost everyone in the stadium at the time feels a part of the ANC. This, in some way, explains the power of the ANC, it’s ability to make people feel a part of it, a part of something bigger than them. No one does this better than Zuma. He gets very few opportunities to do it, and he’s very good at making the most of them when they come along. Zuma also appears to be far more comfortable doing this rather than talking about hard policy.

The ANC has become very good at arranging these events, so expect it to stay on the party’s own script, both logistically, and politically. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe (L) toast the 102nd birthday of the ANC during the launch of the party’s election manifesto at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga on Saturday, 11 January 2014. Picture: SAPA stringer


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