South Africa

2019 ELECTIONS

Ramaphosa tries to charm Hells Angels and doubters on North West campaign trail

March 02.2019. President Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the ANC's manifesto in Rustenburg North West. Photo: TEBOGO LETSIE

President Cyril Ramaphosa must love a challenge, or someone who dislikes him is in charge of his schedule, because he went into North West for a weekend of elections campaigning just as the party’s list of candidates for the legislatures was made public. Well, ja, at least nobody hurled any missiles.

Shading from the hot Mahikeng sun under a huge tree in the courtyard of a school in Ward 32, about a kilometre down the speedbump-riddled road that turns left after the lush Mmabatho Palms Hotel, a lanky biker with a yellow ANC T-shirt and a leather waistcoat admits he has reservations about who to vote for on 8 May. On Sunday the local Hells Angels whipped out their steel horses to show support for President Cyril Ramaphosa, but beneath their serious, focused expressions, they’re not all that convinced.

So much could improve in Mahikeng, and the ANC government isn’t taking the place the right way, the biker said.

Look at the roads, some are good, but there are so many with potholes, and as a biker, you strike one pothole and that’s it,” he said.

Next to him, his friend nodded while cracking open another Castle Light with his front teeth, reinforced with gold.

Unlike the slightly older man on a plastic chair nearby, who said he’d vote ANC until he dies, the lanky biker blamed Eskom’s woes on the government.

It’s a lack of proper management,” he said.

The older man said Eskom should get all the blame, not the government, because Eskom was too quick to get rid of their white experts just after 1994.

Later, Ramaphosa arrived and, from the truck that converts into a stage for mini-rallies, asked the crowd to give the ANC another chance.

We are still busy rectifying the wrongs of apartheid,” he explained.

He admitted the ANC had problems of its own, and promised that the corrupt would go to jail. He also said South Africa was the only country on the continent to offer free social welfare to its poor.

The day before, in a place called Khuma, next to the mining town of Stilfontein, Ramaphosa had held another rally on the huge astroturf pitch of the local sports stadium. Again, on the truck-stage, he proffered a few dance moves to Hugh Masekela’s Thuma Mina (“send me”), which has by now become his theme song as well as the slogan emblazoned on some ANC T-shirts bearing his face.

Near the exit, a man in blue overalls with “Matlosana Municipality” embroidered on the breast was dishing out ANC T-shirts from the cubby hole of a car bearing the same branding. He secretly admitted to being a Democratic Alliance supporter.

You know, the ANC government … ons het die DA nodig om hom terug op die spoor te sit (we need the DA government to put things back on the rails),” he said. He vowed that he would be at the DA’s manifesto launch rally the next Saturday in Potchefstroom.

About 30 kilometres away, in Ikageng, one man didn’t wear one of the yellow T-shirts Ramaphosa was handing out. Samson, 52, did however come to hear out the president. He said the ANC made good on Ramaphosa’s promise of two years ago – before the local government elections – to improve some of the government-built RDP houses, but he claimed the local ANC leaders were misleading Ramaphosa by not showing him the other “kukus”, or chicken pen-sized shacks, in an area just behind the brick RDP homes where the president was doing door-to-door visits.

Samson said the ANC’s approach to eradicating inequalities was all wrong, and that his mind was made up already.

Land first, and the rest will follow,” he said with conviction.

Still, Ramaphosa’s weekend campaigners in the low-income and state-subsidised residential areas in North West must have handed out a few hundred yellow T-shirts, and he attracted scores of people to the mini-rallies. Most of those who went to the rallies said jobs was what was needed most from an ANC government. Not all were sure why employment was so scarce, but one woman said it was up to the municipality to employ people, and not on those short-term contracts with the Expanded Public Works Programme.

Some of those who came out to the rallies admitted, with shy smiles like a child revealing the name of their school crush, that they liked Ramaphosa far better than Jacob Zuma, whose name they don’t mention. Still, Ramaphosa’s reception in the province wasn’t a wholehearted one, and not nearly as populist as Zuma, who on at least one previous elections campaign in the province picked a much bigger stadium for his rallies, and held longer speeches, and could pull far more inspired song-and-dance moves than his successor.

It’s not that North West loved Zuma more than it does Ramaphosa. Zuma failed to fill up the Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg for the 2011 local government manifesto launch. In February 2019 Ramaphosa suffered a similar fate at the provincial manifesto launch, which was delayed for a few hours because of suspected sabotage around transport for supporters.

Ramaphosa was fairly brave stepping into a hotspot province a day after the party made public its election lists of candidates for Parliament and the provincial legislatures. Some of the most recent fights in the province related to just that. This came about soon after a court overturned the disbandment of the ANC’s provincial leadership structures, and Supra Mahumapelo – sacked as premier in 2018 following violent protests in the province – was reinstated as provincial chair.

He has since agreed to an ANC provincial unity leadership of sorts together with the task team that was appointed to take over after the disbandment, but his absence on Ramaphosa’s campaign trail this weekend sent a sinister signal. Even former minister Malusi Gigaba, who fell on his sword when a court found that he lied in the Fireblade saga, but who rose again to occupy spot number 23 on the ANC’s candidate list, and David Mahlobo, who went beyond his call of duty for Zuma as state security minister, and was shuffled out of Ramaphosa’s Cabinet only to reappear at number 28 on the lists, could muster the decency to pitch up for Ramaphosa’s campaign.

It wasn’t without glitches. Ramaphosa, whose time-keeping on the campaign trail has been better than most presidents before him, pitched up almost two hours late at the Barolong Boo-Ratshidi traditional place in Mahikeng after leaders from both factions in the province insisted on doing his morning pre-campaign briefing.

Perhaps it’s a feat that Ramaphosa’s team pulled off a fairly incident-free weekend campaign at all in North West, where the ANC in 2014 pulled 67% of the vote. It might have been a little more convincing had the province been more united. Red T-shirted Economic Freedom Front campaigners were lurking around almost every corner on the routes that Ramaphosa took for his campaign, reminding all those with the slightest disgruntlement that there is another way. DM

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