On Sunday afternoon in Kimberley, with ANC leaders long gone after the party’s birthday celebrations, it started to rain. The downpour was welcome in this drought-dessicated province, but its effects were not. Within a few hours, the main road into the town had become a river. A tow-truck waited for waters to subside before it attempted to rescue a car stuck in a pothole which had become an invisible trap as the road flooded.
We are told that Eskom’s primary problem is that adequate maintenance has not been undertaken on its power stations for years. In that case, Eskom’s problem is also shared by almost every municipality in this country. The further one drives out of the major cities, the higher the level of municipal neglect.
ANC bigwigs escaped not just the flooding which ensued after their departure from Kimberley, but also the rolling blackouts which would return to the town after they left. As a result of the ANC’s birthday celebrations, the lights were kept on in Kimberley from Wednesday to Sunday — while the rest of South Africa experienced Stage 2 load shedding almost continually during that time.
A spokesperson for the Sol Plaatje municipality explained that the “little reprieve” was being granted to Kimberley because “the president of the country is here, as well as many other national ministers and dignitaries”.
The weekend of the January 8th statement has become synonymous with a massive piss-up for those ANC officials and supporters who can afford it. Young women boast on social media about a weekend spent with older men in generous moods; young men boast on social media just how wild the party is.
Even the ANC leadership got in on the bacchanalian references, with national chair Gwede Mantashe joking to the crowd at the stadium rally that Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula’s advice for the day was not to “drink under the influence”.
Of SACP leader Blade Nzimande, Mantashe quipped:
“Let’s hope there’s not too much blood in his alcohol”.
The crowd gathered in the stadium for the birthday rally were rewarded for their attendance with the following: free food on the event buses; free stadium wifi; and free entertainment in the form of musical performances from some well-loved local artists.
Of course, the ANC’s VIPs and guests did not slum it in the stadium for long. Virtually as soon as President Cyril Ramaphosa’s speech had ended, members of the party’s NEC were whisked away in air-conditioned buses to lunch at Kimberley’s shiny Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre. The same venue had already staged the party’s Friday night black-tie dinner; later on Saturday, the centre would play host to the real (though completely unofficial) ANC birthday bash: “Thee January Party”, featuring top DJs, with tickets at R600 a pop or R2,000 for VIP entry.
During his speech to the stadium, President Ramaphosa would note approvingly:
“We found that the people of the Northern Cape actually love the African National Congress”.
It’s not clear why he added the surprised-sounding “actually”: the Northern Cape has never been at serious risk of slipping out of ANC hands since 1999, even if the 2019 elections saw the party’s support in the province slip to a low of 57.54%. (In 1994 elections, the party gathered 49.74%)
Perhaps the “actually” was a kind of Freudian slip resulting from the scale of the problems with which Ramaphosa was confronted during his provincial walkabouts.
During the birthday rally, the crowd was repeatedly told that the ANC was “the only party” capable of ensuring their aspirations were realised. The message was reiterated to the point where it began to sound a bit like cult programming — or the kind of line with which an abusive husband keeps his wife in the relationship. Nobody else will ever love you like I do.
Ramaphosa was not wrong: South Africans actually do still love the ANC, despite everything. At the birthday celebrations, Daily Maverick spoke to ordinary party supporters who had driven 13 hours to be there; who had slept overnight in a train station to be there.
Theirs is a support which goes far deeper than the modern model of political party membership. The ANC is not just a political party. It is a home, a sanctuary, a community; it delivered South Africa from apartheid. It is the oldest political movement on the continent. Even by international standards, its 108 years of existence make it a venerable elder.
It is this that has to go some way towards explaining why most South Africans find it so hard to give up on the ANC — despite the fact that the majority of those gathered in the stadium on Saturday returned home to lives deprived of basic services while the party leadership clinked champagne glasses.
But for how much longer? The most passionate ordinary supporters tend to be older. Of the ANC Women’s League members dutifully gathered at the rally in their green blouses, there was barely one to be seen under 50.
For younger South Africans, the relationship is different — particularly for those shut out of the Instagrammable world of parties and champagne. For those not yet born when apartheid ended, the ANC’s saviour status is considerably reduced.
What they want is not nostalgia, nor the frisson of seeing Top Six members dancing together on stage. What they want is jobs. If the ANC cannot deliver that, the days of these wasteful celebrations have to be numbered. DM