South Africa

South Africa

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Jacob Zuma’s play-it-again birthday speech

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Jacob Zuma’s play-it-again birthday speech

There was a time when the ANC was an initiator of fresh ideas and had the ability to generate strategy and policy proposals to respond to current conditions. It had a legion of thinkers and strategists at all levels of the organisation that kept the ANC vibrant and dynamic. That time is long gone, as was evident at the weekend’s 103rd anniversary celebrations. The ANC is now in the business of recycling and presenting old proposals, which they previously failed to implement, as the pressure of a full-blown economic crisis in the country looms. Even President Jacob Zuma’s anecdotes are old and tired. The ANC is in desperate need of a breath of fresh air, but it looks unlikely for a while yet. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

At the ANC’s fundraising dinner at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Friday night, as part of the 103rd anniversary celebrations, President Jacob Zuma began his speech by remarking on the programme for the evening. He said the programme stated that he was to deliver the “keynote” address, but nobody had given him a key or a note. The assemblage of high-powered business people, prominent figures in society, socialites and the ANC elite all laughed at the president’s joke, even though most of them would have heard him tell it several times before.

That is the quintessential problem with “Emperor’s New Clothes” syndrome in the ANC – and perhaps everywhere else it exists. The leader is so plied with adulation – people reportedly paid up to R3 million to sit at his table – that he has no idea how old and tired his joke is, or that banality is hardly amusing.

But the old joke was the least of the problems with Zuma’s speech that night. Zuma treated a room full of influential people in society, who have the ability to move the market and impact public opinion, with an abstract on South Africa’s history. “You must remember that a man called Jan van Riebeek arrived here on 6 April 1652, and that was the start of the trouble in this country.”

He skipped through the history of colonialism and eventually to the formation of the ANC, explaining why his organisation was different to any other political party. There was no reference to the current context, particularly the economic and power crisis that in all likelihood would negatively affect the businesses of the very people in the room. There was no form of assurance that the ANC had a grip on matters, particularly the impact of impending rolling blackouts on an already hurtling economy. If there were a plan, it would have and should have been introduced there.

Instead there was a gentle cajoling – and a hint of extortion – to contribute to the ANC’s financial wellbeing. Zuma said democracy was very expensive and that if the ANC had to maintain that route, it needed to be strong.

“It must be strong financially, not so? So I always appeal… just one cheque. Just sign and give it to the treasurer-general… Give us figures but not more than six.” Zuma went on to say: “You must know that if the ANC at any point can be weaker, your business will be weaker… For your business to be strong, make the ANC strong… you must invest wisely.”

So maybe this was just a social gathering and the details of the ANC’s plan for the year and strategy to handle the various crises would only emerge at the big anniversary rally at Cape Town stadium the next day.

No such luck.

The ANC resorted to the idealism of the 60-year-old Freedom Charter to provide a backdrop for its year-plan. Of course the ANC needs to stake its historical claim to the document in the milestone anniversary year. And of course the Freedom Charter’s parlance dovetails nicely with the ANC’s claim that it is pursuing “radical economic transformation”, of which there is as yet little evidence.

But where the whole patchwork quilt that is the ANC’s policy plan begins to look a little bizarre is when the ANC’s anniversary statement tries to amalgamate the National Development Plan (NDP) and the Freedom Charter into a common vision. The ANC national executive committee statement, read by Zuma, stated that the NDP is an overarching plan to realise the vision of the Freedom Charter.

This was never the stated intention of the National Planning Commission (NPC) process or the resultant NDP. It is rather disingenuous for the ANC to revise the intention as an afterthought, simply to beat off other organisations such the Economic Freedom Fighters and the United Front, who are using the Freedom Charter as their policy reference point.

It is inconceivable that a group of academics, economists, business people and government officials in a modern state would go through intensive studies over three years and come up with a vision in 2012 that echoes what 3,000 who gathered in Kliptown over two days in 1955 produced. It is one thing to celebrate history, but to mislead a nation in desperate need of a clear policy trajectory is simply deceit.

There is already incoherence between the NDP, the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan. Force the Freedom Charter into the mix and you have a mishmash of approaches as to how the economy is managed and where jobs are meant to come from. The Freedom Charter states, for example, “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”.

“As a whole” is the key part of the clause, which is inconsistent with all ANC and government policy.

Land is another issue where the contradictions are obvious. The Freedom Charter states: “All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose”. Again, this is not consistent with any government policy and is unlikely to be. Zuma announced that expropriation legislation would be finalised this year, which provides for redistribution with compensation. This, however, does not mean the same thing that the Freedom Charter envisages, even if you structure the ANC statement under the same headings as the 1955 document.

The ANC cannot bite off parts of the Freedom Charter like it’s a box of chocolates and discard the rest. But the ANC is using the Freedom Charter parlance now just as it threw around the promise of “radical economic transformation” in 2014, without being able to expand on what it means or it being visible in budgeted government programmes.

What is clear from the 8 January statement is that the ANC has run out of ideas as to how to deal with the mounting problems in the country. Much of the statement was a repetition of announcements made previously, such as “investigating the modalities of a national minimum wage” (8 January Statement 2014) and finalising amendments to legislation to deal with the disparities in mining communities.

On corruption and the energy crisis, both of which threaten the integrity and standing of the country, Zuma went off script to absolve himself and the ANC of responsibility. He said corruption was worse under Apartheid and also blamed the power crisis on “skewed planning” under the National Party regime. “The belief out there is this (the energy crisis) is result of failure of government or a lack of leadership in country. The reality is the legacy of Apartheid,” Zuma said.

He said “energy was made to serve a few” and the ANC’s mass rollout of electricity to households since 1994 had resulted in the current shortages. “What we are doing is to build new power stations; we solving the Apartheid problem,” Zuma said.

But the ANC has been aware of the impending electricity crisis since the late 90s and could have taken timeous action to correct the situation. The 1998 White Paper on Electricity predicted that South Africa would run out of power at the beginning of 2008.

“…although growth in electricity demand is only projected to exceed generation capacity by approximately the year 2007, long capacity-expansion lead times require strategies to be in place in the mid-term, in order to meet the needs of the growing economy,” the White Paper stated.

In 2007, then President Thabo Mbeki acknowledged government’s failure to act on Eskom’s warnings that there needed to be investment in electricity infrastructure. Now, in 2015, the ANC and state president is washing his hands of responsibility and vesting all hope in the two new power stations that even at full capacity will not meet the country’s growing energy demands.

But what else can the ANC say? After 20 years in power and a raft of strategies and plans, it is yet to find the formula that can push up the economic growth rate to where it needs to be in order to deal with the poverty and job crisis. It is juggling all these plans and struggling with implementation. Each year, it keeps belting out promises and recycling old ideas that soon prove not to be feasible.

It needs new people that can bring fresh dynamism to the party. The power battles in the party have, however, hounded out a generation of leaders that was meant to come of age after Mbeki-Zuma generation. There is now a deep void of thinkers and strategists who were meant to step into leadership roles. Younger people now in various leadership roles in the ANC do not have the pedigree of the lost generation and many of them have been contaminated by the lure of wealth and power.

In its 103rd year of existence, and 21st year as a ruling party, the ANC has precious little to offer in terms of people and ideas. The power dynamics and factional battles do not allow for a continuous rejuvenation that was so crucial for the ANC’s phenomenal political longevity.

After so many years in power, the ANC is an intellectually tired organisation. Its main energy is not directed into solving South Africa’s many problems, and its efforts look more like just words on paper, window-dressing rather than real solutions for real problems facing real people of this country. It appears that the main political energy is reserved for preservation of power networks; staying in power trumps everything else these days.

So there will be more of the same for the foreseeable future. South Africa will remain stuck in the same quagmire and Jacob Zuma will continue telling the same jokes. Welcome to 2015. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma (R) greets the crowd at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, 10 January 2015 during the ANC’s 103rd anniversary celebrations. Zuma is accompanied by ANC stalwart and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (L). Picture: Department of Communications (DoC)/SAPA


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