Renew. Restore. Reaffirm. Rebuild. Resolve. ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa used every “re” word in his arsenal on Sunday to persuade ANC supporters that the party is about to shift direction definitively. Ramaphosa was speaking at the #Mandela100 celebrations in Cape Town, the seat of DA power for almost a decade. The ANC will be hoping that Ramaphosa is enough of a drawcard to win the Western Cape back come 2019 – but as Sunday’s event made clear, there’s still a long way to go. By REBECCA DAVIS.
Of all the places in the country, the ANC chose Cape Town as the city from which to launch the party’s year-long celebrations of the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.
Yes, Cape Town – and the Grand Parade specifically – is the place where Mandela gave his historic first address upon his release from prison in 1990, as Ramaphosa reminded the crowds gathered at the same site on Sunday.
But the ANC also had a wide range of other sites with Mandela-related significance to choose from. A more obvious choice in some ways would have been Mandela’s birthplace of the Eastern Cape, since the anniversary being commemorated is of Mandela’s birth.
That they opted for Cape Town may owe something to logistics, since the ANC’s top officials had been slated to be in town around this time anyway for the State of the Nation Address. The Grand Parade gathering was organised at speed: ANC Western Cape leader Faiez Jacobs said that the national ANC had given the provincial branch just seven days’ notice to arrange everything.
But choosing Cape Town as the location for an event of some significance also sends a message. Come the 2019 general elections, the ANC will be gunning for the Western Cape.
In the days and weeks leading up to the centenary launch, senior ANC figures have been working the province, from former Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom to Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. The ANC’s Top Six were meant to be pressed into service at a range of events around Cape Town before Sunday, but the ongoing Zexit wrangling meant that many items had to be cut from the schedule.
Though the catalyst for all this action is ostensibly the Mandela centenary, it is also an opportunity for some old-fashioned campaigning.
And in his address on Sunday, Ramaphosa was in full seduction mode towards the people of Cape Town. He deviated from his prepared speech for additional tributes.
“You, the people of Cape Town, as you led your daily lives, as you got involved in the struggle, you continued to inspire Nelson Mandela,” Ramaphosa said. “We applaud you for having given Nelson Mandela a great deal of strength, and we say thank you.”
Ramaphosa painted Cape Town as a city of revolutionaries; a city “inherently opposed to colonialism and oppression”. He mentioned Cape Town’s often neglected history of slavery. He listed 19 anti-apartheid activists who called Cape Town home. He cited the forced removals from District Six as “one of the most traumatic episodes in the history of the city”.
And he dealt with the water crisis, calling for unity in a time of “common struggle against a formidable enemy”. Again deviating from his prepared speech, Ramaphosa emphasised that the effects of the Cape drought would be felt by poor people “much more” than by “rich people”.
There were more compliments: “We commend the people of the Western Cape for their fortitude and for their action, individually and collectively, to confront this crisis.”
There was a reassurance that the people of the Western Cape would not be left in the lurch by government: “As a nation, we have a responsibility to come to the aid of the people of this province.”
There were no jabs at the DA-run provincial government or the City of Cape Town for their handling of the water crisis – only a call for collaboration.
“We need to see national government working far closer with provincial and local governments – and with business, labour and civil society – to ensure a common, co-ordinated response to this crisis,” Ramaphosa said.
It was a speech to woo the people of Cape Town.
But at the Grand Parade on Sunday, there were other signs of just how much work Ramaphosa and the ANC would have to do to win back the Western Cape.
The turnout for the event itself was disappointing, as manifested in big areas of emptiness on the parade.
Some of those who had been bused in for the event did not actually bother to attend it, preferring to either hang around the outskirts of the Grand Parade or simply head into town for other entertainment. As a colleague noted, that’s a bad sign when it comes to the discipline of ANC supporters in the province.
If you can’t get ANC supporters to attend an event hosted by the biggest and shiniest weapon in the ANC’s arsenal – Cyril Ramaphosa – then how are you going to get them mobilised in numbers for 2019?
Then there’s the matter of the ANC in the Western Cape.
When provincial leader Faiez Jacobs took to the podium after Ramaphosa’s speech, he was addressing a dwindling audience. The minute Ramaphosa finished talking, people started streaming out.
Jacobs termed the event an “overwhelming success”, and told Ramaphosa: “We have listened to your message of unity.”
And then he instructed ANC supporters to go to Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s house on Monday to “fill water”.
Jacobs called on people to gather at the premier’s residence in their numbers on Monday to demand that Zille provide them with water to fill their containers.
This is not quite as nutty as it sounds. The premier’s residence, Leeuwenhof, reportedly has its own spring, and the Water Crisis Coalition has asked that all private springs be made open to the public immediately. It is this campaign to which the ANC Western Cape has added its voice.
But in that moment on Sunday, there could not have been more of a jarring contrast with what had come before: from Ramaphosa’s smooth diplomacy and non-partisan appeals to this apparently hare-brained scheme targeting Helen Zille.
The ANC in the province has painted Zille as public enemy number one for some years, so this is consistent with their regular campaigning.
But Zille is old news. The ANC Western Cape has spent so much time and energy railing against her that they may have forgotten that her term as premier expires in 2019. To keep targeting Zille as the enemy is a hopelessly shortsighted plan.
There has never been a better moment than this one for the ANC to potentially regain ground in the Western Cape. Zuma will soon be gone; Ramaphosa is promising new hope, and the DA’s reputation for clean and effective governance has taken a battering from the water crisis and its infighting.
The national ANC knows this, which is why they are focusing renewed attention on the Western Cape now. But as Jacob Zuma used to sing: yinde lendlela (the road is long). Sunday showed that clearly. DM
Photo: Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the crowd in Cape Town on Sunday 11 February 2018. Photo by Leila Dougan
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine