By 11 am on Saturday, 12 January, the gates at the Moses Mabhida stadium in Durban closed. Inside, more than 80,000 people packed the stadium – the full quota of visitors it can hold. People occupied seating all the way to the nosebleed seats at the top and then stood in rings around those — creating a sea of yellow T-shirts splashed with the smiling face of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Former president Jacob Zuma received much louder applause than his successor when he walked into the stadium. Durban being his home territory, Zuma forced the party into a détente with him by going on the offensive, using a cheeky Twitter feed in the weeks leading up to the party’s manifesto launch.
For this, he received a seat at all the high tables laid on by the ANC as it launched its 2019 election campaign in the province where it has the highest number of members. But he didn’t speak at any big event.
The packed stadium, and new polls which put the party at 61% national support (after its backing fell to just below 50% in 2017 and after losing three major cities in the 2016 local government elections), saw the ANC use the space to declare war on the enemy within.
Ramaphosa drew a sword on one of the ANC government’s most powerful constituencies: Its employees, the civil servants who belong to the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union and to the South African Democratic Teachers Union. The two unions are the biggest in the country.
South Africa employs 1.4 million civil servants (by ratio the highest on the continent and among the highest in the world) but achieves poor development outcomes in health, education and service.
“This will change,” said Ramaphosa in one of the more decisive moments of his speech, setting out how the ANC will fight the election, likely to be in May. “Many of our public servants are committed and dedicated professionals who perform their tasks faithfully. However, there are some whose indifference to the needs and concerns of citizens has led to a deterioration in the quality of services and assistance rendered.
“Civil servants must serve the people of our country with commitment, diligence, humility, respect and honesty,” said Ramaphosa.
“Civil servants must not serve (only) their relatives and friends,” said Ramaphosa in one of four statements for which he won applause. The ANC has been meeting its constituencies for months and collating their concerns into a bundle from which it sculpted its manifesto.
Key concerns that emerged were jobs and corruption, said ANC officials. In addition, the treatment of citizens by government employees came up again and again as a problem for the governing party.
The ANC is picking a big fight with its employees by putting a ban on civil servants who do business with the state.
“We will not tolerate those in the public services or in political office who are negligent or use public resources for their own selfish gains.
“Legislation and regulations already exist to prevent public servants from doing business with the state and we will be more diligent in monitoring compliance with this legislation.”
According to the Auditor-General, thousands of civil servants are in business with the state, earning billions of rands a year from double-dipping, the practice of earning a salary from the state while also doing business with and profiting from the state.
In 2012/2013, the Auditor-General found that 3,314 employees of the Department of Basic Education, of whom 2,485 were teachers, were in business with the state.
Until now successive public service ministers have been unable to stop moonlighting by state employees.
“We cannot and will not allow situations where government fails South Africans,” said Ramaphosa. DM
Che Guevara hailed from an Irish family.