So much of our politics is loud and boisterous, and to use an advertising phrase, ‘above the line’, that we sometimes forget that within the African National Congress and the Alliance there are different factions trying to do things differently. When we do think of them, it's in terms of Cosatu or the SACP, or even an historic entity known as the ANC Youth League. In fact, the group within the Alliance that is now the most different from the rest is the ANC Gauteng. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
More and more, the ANC Gauteng seems to be trying out a new approach to governance. This is mainly due to electoral pressure, but it’s also because the party is the only successful urban province of the ANC (it’s hard to imagine anyone could call the ANC in the Western Cape a success). An experiment is playing out here that could determine the future of the ANC as governing party of South Africa.
On Sunday, it emerged that the Gauteng police commissioner, Lesetja Mothiba, had written a letter to the Community Policing Forums in the province telling them that they were no longer to carry out their oversight role in the province. They, being the active citizens they are, were not going to take it lying down. They protested, loudly. Overnight, the Gauteng MEC for safety and security in the province, Sizakele Nkosi-Malubane, released a statement criticising the move, telling the commissioner he did not have the power to do this, and to, basically, just stop it.
It’s important to remember here that policing is a national competence, in other words Mothiba answers only to the National Police Commissioner, and no one else. Provinces have only an oversight role. This kind of statement is exactly what one would have expected to happen in the Western Cape, where the police would have been presumed to be acting on the order of Luthuli House through deployment, and the Western Cape provincial government would have rushed to the media. But here was an ANC deployee, doing exactly the same.
On Monday morning, The Star newspaper was published with what is called in the fast declining newspaper trade ‘a wraparound’, similar to that which saw the end of Alide Dasnois’ career at the Cape Times, one day after Madiba’s death in Deceember 2013. Essentially, it’s a piece of paper around the main paper. This time, the advert was for the Gauteng provincial government. The main angle of the ad was the roll-out of tablet computers for kids in certain grades in the province’s rural and township schools. The wrap-around was well produced, the kind of thing that looks great. It was written in plain language. And on the back, just in case anyone missed the main point, it featured a large picture of ‘The Team’ of Gauteng MECs, all photoshopped to look as if they were walking with purpose towards the reader. Featuring a beaming David Makhura in the forefront, it was the kind of image the Springbok media team would be proud of. Or what any election strategist would approve of in the run up to the local elections.
It was also the kind of advert designed to attract the support of your average urban South African, about delivery, making a difference, and of course, improving children’s lives. None of the patronising nonsense about the communications minister fantasy/speech at some god-forsaken imbizo.
It is clear, more than ever, that the ANC Gauteng is well aware that it needs to change its image. No doubt there is an image consultant somewhere that would suggest the best way would be to distance itself from Luthuli House’s style, or its current national leader and his own style.
But what really is fascinating about this effort, is that it’s not just gloss and spin that is differentiating the ANC Gauteng from the national ANC. It is also on issues of governance.
There were some who always claimed that the ANC Gauteng’s stance on e-tolls was just political posturing, but the way Makhura has used his position to effect real change in the province should put paid to those thoughts. Recently, the mayor of Joburg, Parks Tau, said during a discussion about transport that while some people still proposed more toll roads in the city, it was clear that there was no support for the idea, and thus there would not be any more on his watch. That is not something he could even think of saying without the proper support from Makhura.
And of course, who could forget the leader of the ANC Gauteng, Paul Mashatile, pointing out at the Daily Maverick Gathering 2015, that the ANC itself had not taken a position on Nkandla. If there ever was a way to differentiate yourself from the image of the national ANC’s Number One, Mashatile hit the bullseye.
Makhura himself, as the Premier, is the person who most personifies this new approach. About a month ago, he took part in the Radio 702 CEO Sleepout. No matter what you think of the initiative (which raised R25 million for Boys and Girls Town), it could have been rather risky for him. He had to spend the night with a bunch of people some in his organisation would label ‘White Apartheid Monopoly Capital’. And he had to find R100,000 to pay for the privilege. But it worked for him; he was seen as someone doing his bit, as someone willing to actually do something to help others. Mayor Tau did the same. It will have done wonders for their profiles in the independent Gauteng commercial media.
One wonders what the rest of the ANC thinks of all of this. In Limpopo, there are hundreds of schools without proper toilets and taps, young children fall into pit toilets, and sometimes die in most awful ways imaginable. In Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi is running around handing out tablets and free data to anyone in a school uniform. While KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and others, publicly proclaim their support for Number One, the ANC Gauteng mutters about corruption.
Of course, the ANC Gauteng has the perfect riposte to this. It will point to the figures in last year’s national and provincial elections, showing that it barely held on to Gauteng. It will go further, and look at the numbers indicating that the ANC is in danger of losing Joburg and Tshwane in the local government elections next year. It will talk about having no other options but to go this route.
Another problem for the ANC Gauteng is not so much that people in the province want to vote for someone else, although of course many of them do. It must surely be turnout; it’s about giving your average ANC voter a reason to go to the polls and cast their ballot. If there is anything that Number One has done, it’s that he’s told some of those voters not to bother too much. But anyone living in a household with a tablet-owning teenager is likely to make the effort to go to vote. So will someone who has dropped their e-tag in the recycling bin marked ‘plastic’.
There are other indications that the ANC, or parts of it, are beginning to change; the recent Alliance Summit Declaration gave several hints of that. The ANC Gauteng is implementing the kind of responsive pro-active policy that people in urban areas demand, and vote for. If they are successful, they could produce a blueprint for other parts of the ANC to succeed. But first, they will have to be given the space by Luthuli House to continue on this path. DM
Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and CapeTalk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He’s been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.
Main photo: Premier David Makhura at the release of the Gauteng e-tolls report, 16 January 2015. (Greg Nicolson)
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