They came for the speech and stayed for the beach

By Carien Du Plessis 14 January 2019

An ANC supporter waves a South African flag during the ANC Election manifesto launch, Durban, South Africa, 12 January 2019. EPA-EFE/KIM LUDBROOK

Most of the 80,000 foot soldiers that filled out Moses Mabhida Stadium for the ANC rally on Saturday were more interested in what the ANC could do for them than what the party’s leaders are doing to each other.

Near gale force winds on Durban’s North Beach ruffled the palm trees and bushes, but could not blow away the shrieking army of yellow T-shirts in the choppy waves. They were ANC supporters finding refreshment in the water after travelling in overnight buses to be there. Many came from other provinces such as Gauteng and the Free State to listen to President Cyril Ramaphosa make promises ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Trust Deputy President DD Mabuza’s election fleet to ruin their fun. Mabuza isn’t called The Cat for nothing. There was not to be a repeat of the embarrassing 2016 local government manifesto launch in Port Elizabeth, where no amount of hot air could spin the World Cup stadium there even half full, so gatvol were the locals of former president Jacob Zuma.

So just before 8 am on Saturday, an ANC-branded Ford Ranger double cab bakkie – bought by businessman Robert Gumede – pulled up and directed its speakers to the beach, lying: “Comrades, please move to the stadium, the president is about to speak.”

Truth was that at that time, emergency services were preparing for the worst after a tent in the overflow area became a kite in the strong wind. Ramaphosa’s security people refused to let him onto the main stadium pitch, and the programme ran more than an hour late.

This prompted Zongezile Botha to walk towards the beach rather, despite the pleas by the organisers. He promised to be back on time. On his yellow T-shirt, an iconic image of Winne Madikizela-Mandela, fist raised, with the legend: “Do it for Mama”. He’s a small-scale farmer from Brandfort, where she spent a number of unhappy years under a form of house arrest.

Botha said the party was doing a good job in moving the country towards free education, and hoped to benefit from it too sometime in future.

Education must be free from general to the varsity level, and the way it is going is good.” He added: “South Africa will have skills because of Jacob Zuma’s announcement,” with reference to Zuma’s announcement in December 2017 that all higher education would be free. Some economists at the time considered this unaffordable and not well thought through, but many students welcomed it.

Outside the stadium, an 18-year-old party supporter from Durban in a white T-shirt and ANC-emblazoned cape on his shoulders said: “I’m supposed to go to study this year, but I haven’t applied yet. I didn’t think I will make matric, but I got ‘diploma’,” he laughed, meaning that he got a D. He said he’d vote “for Cyril Ramaphosa”, even if Ramaphosa stood accused, in his view, of being the cause of some steep rises in the petrol price recently. He and his friends supported the ANC Youth League, but couldn’t name any of its leaders.

An informal poll among those leaving the stadium showed most would vote “for Ramaphosa”. Even though, in a proportional system, voters are asked to choose between parties, pictures of party leaders also appear on the ballot. Ramaphosa’s face was also printed on many T-shirts and banners (there were a few with Zuma’s face and one or two with former president Nelson Mandela), so supporters really have no reason to be confused even if they were angry at him for replacing Zuma in February 2018, just over a year before the end of his term. If this message of who to vote for was sinking in, it would be one less worry for party campaigners, who would not want to see the ANC decline electorally any more than it had done in the past decade. A solid ANC win would also be an endorsement for Ramaphosa.

Zuma still likes to make his presence felt, so he switched off his Twitter for just long enough to stay awake for most of Ramaphosa’s 90-minute speech, sitting in the second row from the front. Unlike Zuma, Mbeki did not attend rallies (except for the centenary in 2012) or national executive committee meetings after he was ousted as head of state in September 2008. Even an attempt to lure Mbeki into an Elders Council to help advise the party blew up after he was told that Zuma, too, was invited to serve on the structure.

On stage Zuma ate and shared what seemed like some lozenges, followed by what seemed like a little bag of nuts. Throughout the speech he toyed with the A5-sized manifesto booklet, paging through it, and applauded the matric achievements Ramaphosa announced. Zuma also nodded determinedly when Ramaphosa spoke about the forms of land ownership.

Unlike Mbeki, Ramaphosa was spared the menace of boos from Zuma supporters, at least until now. Perhaps, for as long as Ramaphosa’s New Dawn has not quite dawned, those attending Saturday’s manifesto launch wanted to see things like education and income improve more than themselves becoming cannon fodder in another party leadership tussle. DM


In other news...

South Africa is in a very real battle. A political fight where terms such as truth and democracy can seem more of a suggestion as opposed to a necessity.

On one side of the battle are those openly willing to undermine the sovereignty of a democratic society, completely disregarding the weight and power of the oaths declared when they took office. If their mission was to decrease society’s trust in government - mission accomplished.

And on the other side are those who believe in the ethos of a country whose constitution was once declared the most progressive in the world. The hope that truth, justice and accountability in politics, business and society is not simply fairy tale dust sprinkled in great electoral speeches; but rather a cause that needs to be intentionally acted upon every day.

However, it would be an offensive oversight not to acknowledge that right there on the front lines, alongside whistleblowers and civil society, stand the journalists. Armed with only their determination to inform society and defend the truth, caught in the crossfire of shots fired from both sides.

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