President Cyril Ramaphosa remarked that it was the first time the ANC had held an event like the one on Thursday night, where a number of highly qualified professionals and leaders in their field stood up to endorse the ANC in a flashy showbiz-like event. Some, like the woman pilot, the 19-year-old farmer, the scientist, the surgeon, the lesbian – all of them black – declared that they are who they are because of the ANC. There was even a T-shirt for sale outside saying this.
There were also the endorsements, of the ANC as much as of Ramaphosa himself. Both former civil servant and education activist Mary Metcalfe and Black Business Council president Sandile Zungu said that they have confidence that Ramaphosa was the man to deal with corruption, as he had already started to do so. Ramaphosa used his 40-minute off-the-cuff speech to try to convince those who were doubting his abilities and his power in the party.
As he had done many times before, Ramaphosa tried to move the party out of the divisive competition mode it seems to be stuck in following its 2017 elective conference at Nasrec. Before the conference, he said: “We were pulling in different directions, backing different leaders, but Nasrec was the defining moment. We chose a leadership, and we have been saying as the ANC, we say we coalesce and unite behind the leadership that has been chosen.” Ramaphosa held up his relationship with his former rival – who in 2017 was backed by the supporters of former president Jacob Zuma, and who was not spotted in the crowd – as an example. “The best manifestation is how comrade doctor Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and myself relate to one another. We are united in effort and everything as we put away the differences that we have, and the different approaches that we have. We have been saying to our own organisation, ‘comrades, the two protagonists who were pitted against each other have now united and they work together beautifully and wonderfully’. And we are saying all our members, all our leaders must now unite and pull in the same direction and speak with one voice. That is what we are saying.”
The home stretch before an election should be used to win over voters, and not to address divisions in the party, but it has been clear that ANC secretary general Ace Magashule – who holds an enormous amount of power in the party – has not been on board entirely. He recently complained that state resources were being used against him, to tap his phone – a clear jab at the president of his organisation, who used his roundtable discussion with new-kid-on-the-block Newzroom Africato clap back at this.
On Thursday night Magashule wasn’t present. He was in KwaZulu-Natal where he was campaigning with Zuma. Ramaphosa was, however, flanked by party deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, acting party spokesperson Dakota Legoete, as well as soccer boss Irvin Khoza and other party veterans. Party treasurer general Paul Mashatile was also in the audience. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe, who has been critical about the state of the ANC in recent times, endorsed the party with his presence, together with some members of the Mandela family. If Mbalula has his way, former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Zuma will join this line-up on stage at the party’s final rally on Sunday, holding up their hands victoriously in unity.
Unity is important for the party to pull together in the home stretch sprint towards 8 May, but also to deliver in government. In order to convince the doubting voters that it will do so, it has to appear united so now. An Ipsos poll put undecided voters at about two-thirds of the electorate – and it is those votes that all the parties are gunning for right now in these last few days before the election.
Ramaphosa addressed the service delivery issue, conceding that it has deteriorated. “But we are going to fix this,” he promised. “I am clear about this. After the eighth of May, playtime is over.” Local, provincial and national government will be made to work better, he said, and the policies that were already there, will now be implemented. “This is the time for implementation,” he said. And for those doubting, Ramaphosa added that this was part of the mandate he was given at Nasrec, to renew the ANC and the government. He said that the time government takes to do things, should be halved, and commended the Gauteng government for paying service providers within seven days. This will also help to empower business people and stimulate the economy, he added.
Speaking to those leaders in their fields who gave their testimonies, Ramaphosa said: “In our country, we have a reservoir of talented people, and it is this opportunity that we want to unlock. Now is the time to implement. As President, I no longer want to hear excuses from ministers. Our premiers must stop accepting excuses. No more excuses, we must just now implement because our people deserve the best.”
These promises have been made before, but backing them with real-life testimonies at a glitzy event, gave them some weight. Still, many voters have already voted with their feet, and many more are likely to do so next week. Not sticking to its lofty promises in the next five years will backfire badly for the ANC, and it’s likely that Ramaphosa knows it. DM
"We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings." ~ Ursula Le Guin