When it comes to running campaigns in democratic South Africa, no one has as much experience and as many resources as the current crop of ANC leaders. As a result, the razzmatazz, the glitz, the glam, the sheer volume of it is always over the top. Nowhere is this more evident than in the final Siyanqoba Rally, which is the traditional climax to months of door-to-door campaigning. The highpoint of this rally is always the speech by the leader of the ANC. Which is a pity, because President Jacob Zuma is not the best speaker in prepared English. (And the man before him, Thabo Mbeki was less exciting than a humming drone with no battery.) But it was not so much what was in Zuma's speech on Sunday than what was left out that was so interesting. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
It was nothing if not freezing in the stands at Ellis Park on Sunday (or, to give it its official name in these capitalist days, Emirates Airline Park). That didn’t deter ANC supporters – if there is one thing the Gauteng ANC does well, it is to fill a stadium, come rain or shine. And then to fill the overflow stadium, and then to simply keep ’em coming after that.
It’s often asked why we as horrid hacks care about the number of people in a stadium. The answer is that if politicians promise to prove their power by filling up such a structure, when they fail, that is significant.
But all through the event, this cynical hack could think only of one question. Tshwane appears to still be in the balance in this election. The problem facing the Gauteng ANC in trying to retain it, is the people who voted for them during the Mbeki years, but have now given up, because they simply cannot stand Zuma. So then, if they want to retain Tshwane, they need to give those voters a signal that Zuma is on his way out.
Doesn’t that mean that the best and easiest way to ensure the Gauteng ANC retained Tshwane on Wednesday would have been for them to arrange for Zuma to have been booed yesterday?
Wouldn’t that have sent the signal that they want to send to these voters? One wonders if they thought of it? But of course, such is the balance of power at the moment in the ANC, that should the ANC lose one of the Gauteng metros, it may lead to a move either by the Gauteng ANC to oust Zuma, or a move by Zuma to disband the Gauteng leadership. Or, possibly, both.
In the end, of course, wiser heads prevailed.
If there is one thing that years of listening to political speeches through headphones has taught this writer, it is this: Your opening matters, energy matters. Zuma had more energy than he has had in a long time on Sunday. His opening “Amandla” was top-drawer stuff. It may seem like a small thing, but if you get that right, the tone, the aggression, the energy, the voice of it, the crowd will stay with you. It’s almost a signal that everything is as it should be. On Sunday, he seemed a long way away from the man who looked, and probably was, decidedly ill just after the 2014 elections.
One of the hallmarks of this election has been the way the ANC has responded to the DA. Time and again, Zuma himself has lambasted the party, using the issue of race as his most potent weapon. There was some speculation beforehand as to whether Zuma would really use a set-piece speech like this, the set-piece speech of the campaign, to do it again. This time, he did not mention Mmusi Maimane by name, or by sub-text. Instead, he quoted Nelson Mandela, who once said, “No white party can run this country, no matter how they cover up by getting a few black stooges”. Of course, that was back in 2000, and the “black stooges” Mandela was referring to were probably people like Joe Seremane. Certainly the DA then, led by Tony Leon and focussed on “fighting back”, was different to the DA now. And if someone refuses to accept that, then surely, the argument would run, they must also accept that the ANC led by Zuma is the same as the ANC led by Nelson Mandela.
Zuma concentrated, to an extent, on the actual performance of the metros. There was, as to be expected, some serious cherry-picking. Joburg got the biggest shout-out, with praise for its leadership (it’s unlikely the admiration is returned), the “many international accolades” it has received, and a general pat on the head. Mangaung, Buffalo City and Ekhuruleni got the same treatment. Nelson Mandela Bay, one of the two biggest battlegrounds this year, got a slightly different mention. Zuma referred to how the city has done well with housing “over the last year”, that “we are also proud of the changes that have taken place in Nelson Mandela in the past year,” and that it has a billion rand in the bank. Of course, there was no mention of the chaos and political mayhem that marked the situation before the imposition of Danny Jordaan upon the metro.
And then there is Tshwane. Considering the problems there, you would think that Zuma may want to concentrate on this Metro. It’s one thing if Nelson Mandela Bay goes, but to lose a second capital could start to look like carelessness. But Zuma hardly mentioned it, and when he did, it was to note that “Tshwane is also transforming the face of the city with street names that reflect the heroes and heroines of our struggle.”
This may be deliberate. In the media centre before the main speech, some of the ANC’s top six leaders were mixing with journalists, sidestepping questions and doing the dance we call “The Pivot”. Ask them a question about the ANC, get a response about how “Mmusi Maimane’s party is the racist one”. In this happy throng, the growl of Gwede Mantashe was heard, booming jokes and generally being his benevolent-ish dictatorial self. In an interview with EWN he said that “What will shock many people is that we will win seven metros hands-down, we are going to do better in Cape Town”. Which is surely an indication he feels secure in Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. In a separate interview, his deputy, Jessie Duarte said of Tshwane that “it is close, we are not denying that, it is going to be close, but we fought for every vote”.
Sunday’s rally followed a similar formula. Bring the entertainment, provide the transport, pack it with t-shirts, fill the place, chuck in some political speeches, and then have the mother of all traffic jams getting out. The sound-system works, the screens are great, Zuma’s speech was one of his better ones, certainly it was not boring or lacking in energy. However, it is an old formula. One does wonder if, for the ANC of the 21st Century, with increasing contestation, something new is needed. Of course, it could well be argued that the formula works so well, both the EFF and the DA copied it on the same weekend. But still, it could be getting a little tired.
Technically, campaigning in the advertising sense is now over. The crucial Wednesday will soon arrive, the bussing of voters will start, and the “get out the vote” operations of the parties will begin. That will be absolutely crucial to the final outcome. DM
Photo: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma on stage at the ANC’s Siyanqoba rally at Ellis Park, Johannesburg. (Greg Nicolson)
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