This weekend the major political parties will present one last show of force in their closing rallies before election day. The ANC always holds its main “Siyanqoba” closing rally in Gauteng – usually at the FNB Stadium. This year, the ANC opted for the 62,000-capacity Ellis Park, with the Johannesburg Stadium alongside also booked to accommodate an expected overflow. With parties still competing to fill stadiums, it appears it was a safer bet for the ANC to choose a smaller stadium that will be filled to capacity rather than go through the trauma again of explaining the reasons for partially filled stands.
But filling up Ellis Park is not the ANC’s biggest problem now. People who will go to the closing rally are those who will definitely be voting ANC. The worry will be whether the ANC’s big-budget campaign (thanks to Nomvula Mokonyane, we know that the national campaign might or might not have cost R1 billion) did enough to convince the bulk of Gauteng’s 6.2 million registered voters to vote ANC.
At a media briefing on Thursday, Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile said the party was confident that they would retain the 10 municipalities they currently control in the province and win Midvaal from the Democratic Alliance.
“We have gone to every community in Gauteng. We ran an effective, positive and disciplined campaign, and have touched every corner of the province. We have engaged young people, women, workers, students, professionals, religious sector and senior citizens,” Mashatile said.
Speaking at a gathering of businesspeople, academics and professionals in Midrand later on Thursday, Mashatile dismissed the Ipsos polls that show the DA ahead of the ANC in both Tshwane and the City of Johannesburg. Still, not wanting to take chances, he urged ANC supporters to vote early on Wednesday and also help to ferry voters to polling stations.
But all the high profile campaigning and contingency planning cannot counter the internal problems the ANC in Gauteng faces. The factional warfare in Tshwane, which resulted in unrest in various parts of the city after the announcement of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s mayoral candidate, has been parked off until after the elections. The ANC papered over the cracks to keep its election campaign running but there is nervousness about the effect the divisions will have on voting patterns.
At Thursday’s media briefing, the ANC Gauteng leadership avoided answering directly whether there had been efforts to mediate the conflict between the two factions. ANC provincial secretary Hope Papo said the election campaign had taken precedence over the problems in the Tshwane regional executive committee (REC). He said it had been decided to cancel a meeting with the region’s branches that had initially been announced during the spate of violence.
“Because the campaign is far more serious, we agreed we need to talk about campaign. Our members were more interested in going to the residents to urge them to vote for the ANC,” Papo said. “After elections we will meet the REC and assess the state of our organisation.”
“Assessing” the organisation could very well mean disbanding the Tshwane REC, which will be inevitable if the ANC loses its majority in the metro. The ANC has not been able to bridge the divides in the region for some time, so the provincial executive committee (PEC) will have to contemplate dissolving the structure in order to set in place a process for a new committee to be elected. If the divisions are allowed to continue, the metro might be permanently lost to the ANC, and also impact on voting patterns in the national and provincial elections.
But the Gauteng PEC might itself be on the danger list should the ANC lose the majority in Tshwane and perform badly in other parts of the province, including Johannesburg. The ANC’s national leadership tried to pin the downward slide in support in the 2014 elections on the Gauteng PEC, with some people agitating for the provincial committee to be disbanded. The province was strong enough to fight off disbandment then. But if the ANC suffers heavy losses in the province now, the Gauteng leadership will come under pressure again, particularly from the “premier league” faction that is close to President Jacob Zuma.
Ironically, the reputational damage the ANC has suffered as a result of Zuma’s scandals would have done more damage to its support base than anything the provincial leadership might or might not have done. But it will be the province that will have to shoulder the blame and the deal with the consequences of a drop in support at the polls.
The fact that the provincial leadership had called on Zuma to “reflect deeply and do the right thing” – a polite way of telling him to step down – after the Constitutional Court judgment against him will also be used against them. The province has since recanted on that position but there are clearly tensions between some national leaders and the PEC. The local government election results could be used to diminish the influence of the provincial leadership, particularly ahead of the ANC’s 54th national conference next December.
The Gauteng ANC played the role of dealmaker in previous national conferences, although they were walloped at the 53rd national conference in Mangaung in 2012. At that conference, they backed Kgalema Motlanthe to replace Zuma as ANC president. The campaign backfired, and as a result Gauteng’s leaders and their allies were punished in the election of the 80-member national executive committee.
The Gauteng ANC intends to back Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma at next year’s conference. Those who are opposed to Ramaphosa’s candidacy know that the best way to pull the rug out from under him is to destabilise the Gauteng ANC. This will allow the “premier league” led by the leaders of the Free State, North West and Mpumalanga, and backed by the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League, to lobby freely for their candidate of choice.
The Gauteng ANC is treading cautiously and has run a safe elections campaign. They have been careful not to do or say anything that would warrant a reprimand from the national leadership – as had happened in 2014 when they wanted to reduce Zuma’s appearances on the campaign trail.
But if the ANC performs badly in the province next week, they will need to provide the answers as to why this happened. It will be a difficult path to traverse without assigning some responsibility to the “Number One” turnoff for many traditional ANC voters. Zuma’s supporters will try to insulate him from blame and it is likely that those very people will be gunning for their Gauteng counterparts.
In the event of no party winning an absolute majority in Tshwane or Johannesburg, negotiations would have to take place for coalitions with other parties. Left to their own devices, the ANC in Gauteng could probably seek deals with opposition parties as they have not been confrontational in their campaign. But Zuma in particular has been firing a volley of insults at the DA and Economic Freedom Fighters.
Again, the sins of the national leadership will haunt the province.
Next week’s elections are a high stakes gamble for many people around the country. In Battleground Gauteng, it might be a matter of political survival – for those who will be on the ballot paper and those who are not. And while expectations have been built up that an axe will be hovering over Zuma after the elections, it is more likely to fall on his detractors than him. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma and ANC’s Provincial Chairperson Paul Mashatile (Jordi Matas)
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