A capable state, a united society and a booming economy. That’s what the ANC is hoping it will get – or give – for its 108th birthday this year. The unlikeliness of any of this being achieved in the absence of a reliable electricity supply was not a topic broached at the party’s anniversary.
Delivering the annual January 8 statement in Kimberley, President Cyril Ramaphosa did not dwell much on either the past or the present. Instead, the bulk of his address was devoted to the ANC’s priorities over the next 12 months – with 2020 now labelled as “the year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation building”.
Though the president could not avoid the topic of the electricity crisis, he restricted his remarks on the power crisis to a few upbeat comments promising the rebirth of South Africa’s power provider.
“Eskom will be restored,” Ramaphosa pledged, reiterating the government’s position: “We are not going to privatise Eskom. We are going to strengthen Eskom”.
Ramaphosa said he was aware of the nation’s concerns about the current wave of load shedding. “Obviously this has a negative impact on our economy and lives,” he said. But Eskom is “too big to fail”, said the president, not for the first time. He promised that independent power producers are soon to be brought into the mix and “new energy should come on stream”.
Ramaphosa made no mention of the recent resignation of Eskom chairman Jabu Mabuza, but Cosatu secretary general Zingiswa Losi had already told the crowd that the unions encourage the rest of the Eskom board to follow suit.
Losi omitted to include Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, however, who Cosatu had previously suggested should join Mabuza in resigning as a result of the failure to prevent the current blackouts.
Then again, it wasn’t that kind of event: both Cosatu and the South African Communist Party were in a loving mood towards the ruling party, affirming the strength of the tripartite alliance. Gordhan, meanwhile, wasn’t present at the event. Daily Maverick understands that the minister was busy with government work – of which there is much to be done. Ramaphosa acknowledged as much.
“Over the past week, we, the leadership of the African National Congress, have walked the streets of this province,” he said. In the process, much had been learnt about the needs of ordinary South Africans. But there was another takeaway. “We found that the people of the Northern Cape actually love the African National Congress,” announced Ramaphosa.
The crowd applauded weakly. They reserved their biggest cheers for Ramaphosa’s mention of South Africa’s Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi.
There was a cake so big it took 15 men to carry it on stage. There was confetti, and black, green and gold balloons, and sparkling wine – for the president and the handful of people standing around him.
Yet despite this commitment to ticking the boxes of a “party”, the 108th anniversary rally felt like a rote exercise both in spirit and content. The party had promised 25,000 people would attend. The streets of Kimberley were papered with posters advertising the event for weeks beforehand and buses were chartered to ferry in supporters from all over.
By the end of the rally, the day’s hype man – Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula – would claim that the 25,000 target had been reached. But by late morning, the stadium’s grass pitch was still sparsely populated. ANC support staff could be heard anxiously muttering to each other about the best way to photograph the event to make it look “more full”.
At the end, the prevailing sentiment among ANC officials appeared to be relief that the rally had gone … fine. Nobody booed. Nobody blew up the stadium, despite an earlier bomb threat. The party had not been humiliated in front of a visiting dignitary, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – who even used his speech at the rally to thank South Africa for its “openness” towards Ethiopians, despite the recent xenophobic violence.
The ANC’s centre had held for another birthday.
“Those comrades who did not get food in the morning, you’ll get food in your buses when you go home,” Mbalula reassured the crowd in parting. DM