ROAD TO 2021 LOCAL ELECTIONS
Ramaphosa introduces youthful candidate councillors ahead of ANC’s manifesto launch
President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced a sample of 18 bright young ANC candidates for the local government elections ahead of his party’s manifesto launch, the last of the big three parties to reveal their promises to voters.
“You should respect our people,” President Cyril Ramaphosa told 18 young ANC candidates for the local government elections. “They come first, and you come last. Never ever think you come first. Never ever think that you are better than they are.”
Ramaphosa has been acutely aware of the optics on the campaign trail – last weekend he refused an umbrella to shield him alone from the sun, saying it should be for everyone.
On Sunday night, the youthful faces of the candidates selected to speak at the event, sampled from each province, were as much meant to draw attention to the fact that a record 25% of ANC candidates are under the age of 35 as to Ramaphosa’s attempts to sell a renewed ANC to voters weary from too many broken promises and municipalities that don’t work for them.
The party is set to launch its manifesto on Monday night in Pretoria at a hybrid event, following the DA’s virtual launch on Saturday and the EFF’s Covid-defying mass launch in central Johannesburg on Sunday.
“This is a new era that we are ushering in as local government, and this time we are very serious,” Ramaphosa said, flanked by ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte on his right and ANC elections organiser Fikile Mbalula on his left. “I am confident that these candidates are going to deliver much improved local government structures in this country. Our hopes are pinned on this group of young people we have deployed.”
He warned them that they would encounter local government structures that are broken and have gone bankrupt – he failed to add that this is due to decades of neglect by the same party they have invested their futures in – and that their job was to “[roll up] your sleeves” and work to improve the situation.
Using a baking metaphor, he told the young candidates “you are the yeast that we need in local government”.
Each of the candidates stood up to deliver a speech, many of them starting it with Ramaphosa’s famous lockdown speech opening, “Fellow South Africans”, and they were as convincingly impressive as the last lot of professional young achievers the ANC got to endorse the party in the 2019 elections – more than a year before politicians and officials appointed by that same party went on to milk billions off the state in irregular Covid-19 procurement tenders.
On the other side of the province, in Brakpan, a group of much older ANC members were grappling with exactly this problem earlier on Sunday. Whereas the young councillors spoke of their dreams for their towns and cities, the ANC Veterans’ League champions admitted they were being haunted by nightmares.
“The best description of the movement today is that it’s going through a nightmare,” said the Reverend Frank Chikane, party stalwart and cleric. “We want to get out of this nightmare and make sure that this country is the one we struggled for.”
Chikane was speaking at a veterans’ workshop in the Faranani Multipurpose Centre in Tsakane, Brakpan, as part of the renewal drive by the ANC Veterans’ League, and in an effort to establish branches of the league in the City of Ekurhuleni. So far, efforts have produced less than resounding success, even if the league has dropped requirements for belonging to a branch to 10 members only, seeing that many of the older generation has departed this world. The minimum requirement for an ANC branch is 100 members.
The focus was on countering the “counter-revolutionary forces” in the ANC and “building a movement for all the people”. The local government elections campaign played second fiddle, even though Ramaphosa at the time was campaigning in Tembisa (also in Ekurhuleni). The party is, however, hoping that the recognition given to the forgotten stalwarts in Brakpan could inspire them to bring ANC supporters to voting stations on 1 November.
“If we can fix this ANC, we will be in a good space,” Chikane told the 50-odd people seated in the airy hall.
While self-reflection before elections is important, there is also clearly an interest in establishing a solid base for Ramaphosa’s re-election at the end of next year. The general mayhem that accompanied the party’s candidate registration process in August, which led to the party failing to meet the deadline in 93 municipalities, showed that party structures are not exactly under strict control.
Another struggle stalwart, Sydney Mufamadi, recently appointed by Ramaphosa as security adviser, said of the nightmare Chikane was talking about: “I experience it every day when I look at the population today and I wonder what they will do with our country that we have left. We must be worried about what kind of leadership we are going to leave behind.”
Mufamadi reckons a bit more of the old Struggle spirit might help turn the nightmare into something better. “The South Africa of our dreams will never happen unless we continue to do what we used to do when we went to free ourselves,” he said.
The crisis should be turned into an opportunity, he added, saying that it was difficult to believe the extent to which the ANC is failing the people in terms of service delivery, such that some Soweto residents have been without electricity for years. With this he was referring to Ramaphosa’s campaign in Soweto the previous weekend.
No names were mentioned, but it was clear that the forces the Veterans’ League wants to counter are those supporting former president Jacob Zuma’s faction in the party.
“There are too many disturbing trends to which we must put a stop,” Mufamadi said. “You find prominent members of this organisation featuring prominently in activities that seek to undermine the checks and balances. They undermine the rule of law by insisting [that] because they are in the ANC and because they participated in the struggle for liberation, they must be placed above the rule of law. They scandalise our judiciary and seek to undermine its integrity.”
Instead, the ANC should hark back to a time when it was led by “people of pedigree” like Nelson Mandela, who wasn’t afraid to go to court and answer to a court of law. Those driving the revival of the ANC Veterans’ League appear more concerned with principled leadership than with electoral politics.
No mention was made at the veterans’ meeting of the possible threat at the polls the ANC faces in metros like Ekurhuleni, and nearby Tshwane and Johannesburg. Mufamadi said local government is the sphere that’s supposed to be the closest to the people.
“How do we satisfy ourselves that our candidates are closest to the people?” he asked. “We want to ensure that our candidates know what the ANC stands for.”
Mufamadi contended that no other party has thus far put forward an alternative vision to the ANC, which voters find acceptable. This might be correct, but not for all that long. DM