ANC January 8th Statement: Promises, promises — but can they be kept?
While the official start of the 2022 political year, the ANC’s January 8th Statement, has been overshadowed by the Parliament fire and the release of the first part of the Zondo Commission report, it is clear the party is still hoping to set a tone for the year. And that the words and thoughts of the official document are a response both to last year’s local election results and the chaos within the party itself.
This matters. The ANC is still the only political party able to form a national coalition of interests in our country. But, despite the noble aims to improve service delivery, and work for unity, the road ahead for the movement is still strewn with self-constructed potholes. And the usual promises.
It is easy to forget that while it is the leader of the ANC who delivers the party’s annual January 8th Statement, Saturday’s speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa was in fact a statement of the ANC’s entire national executive committee. This means it is the entire NEC, with all members and factions, speaking as one voice. In this case, Ramaphosa suggested it had gone through a full 15 drafts before being published.
This suggests it has been thought through. It may also be hoped that its contents are the result of general broad agreement across the factions in the NEC. Of course, this may be a forlorn hope.
One of the major promises made by the NEC is to “build a social compact to decisively address unemployment and poverty”. The document suggests the compact would “set out the obligations and commitments of all social partners, government, business, labour and community”. This would then “address the burning challenge of youth unemployment”.
This appears to be in stark difference to the occasional studied silence of the ANC on the issue, and the absolute silence that greeted the last release of our unemployment figures.
That said, this is not a new promise.
Ramaphosa’s CR17 campaign, ahead of the Nasrec elective conference, mentioned exactly the same idea, that of a “social compact”. It is now more than three years later and there has been no implementation of such a thing.
We could go back much further, to 2009, when the ANC promised to create jobs, particularly for young people.
So far, it has singularly failed to do so.
Ramaphosa has been President since 2018 and has not implemented such a compact, so the only reason he may now be able to do so is because he believes he has an increased mandate.
The ANC NEC also says: “We have undertaken several economic reforms in areas such as energy security, the efficiency of our ports, digital migration and access to broadband, and ease of doing business.”
This may be partially true.
It is true Ramaphosa has said companies will be able to use embedded generation to produce their own electricity and to sell the surplus they generate. But it has taken some time for this to be fully implemented.
While there have been announcements about massive investment in our ports, it is also true that Transnet has been hit by computer hackers and was for a period last year unable to process cargo at the usual rate.
And it is unlikely that most business organisations believe it has become much easier to do business.
While it is important for the ANC to make these promises, it is hard to see how they will be implemented — certainly to the extent that they will deal with the extent and scale of the problem.
Perhaps the most burning issue is a basic income grant (BIG), with pressure building for its introduction.
The NEC does refer to this, but very carefully, saying only “there is a clear need for some form of income support for unemployed and poor South Africans based on clear principles of affordability and sustainability”.
This is a statement, not a promise.
However, during her speech before Ramaphosa spoke on Saturday, Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi said it was the ANC that provides “free electricity” to the poor and “provides social grants to 27 million people”. This links to claims that many voters believe they could lose their social grants if the ANC is voted out of power. This claim is highly contested.
So urgent is the need for a BIG, and so brutal the politics around it (as many millions of voters stand to gain from it), it may be difficult for the ANC to avoid implementing some kind of measure before the 2024 elections. This may be one of the issues that allows the ANC to stay above 50% support level in those elections. This may mean the ANC wants to use the issue as a promise ahead of those polls.
Related to the issue of unemployment and jobs is the NEC’s statement that “transitioning to a low-carbon, ecologically friendly and socially sustainable economy presents opportunities to create jobs, inclusion and growth in sectors such as renewable energy, grid construction, manufacturing of renewable components, battery storage, green vehicles and green hydrogen while furthering our environmental protection objectives”.
This suggests, again, that the ANC believes the move towards greener energy is a huge opportunity for the country. And while he will deny it, some may see this as another rebuke for Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe.
The NEC’s comments about recent events, the violence in July and perhaps the fire at Parliament (the SACP’s general secretary Blade Nzimande linked the two in his speech on Saturday) also suggests an important political view of the situation.
The statement says: “These democratic gains are, however, threatened by a concerted effort to destroy the institutions of our democratic State, to erode the values of our Constitution and to undo the social and economic progress made. This worrying confluence of subverting actions is evinced by the blatant acts of state capture and criminality described in the report of the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, the concerted campaign of public violence and destruction that took place in July last year, as well as ongoing acts of wanton theft, destruction and obstruction of vital public and private infrastructure, including communication and logistical networks.”
Of course, there is no mention or speculation of who may be involved in doing this. And, for many, the finger of speculation may well point to people within the ANC itself. This is because it is they who have the most to lose from a fully functioning state — and particularly the party’s former leader and former president, Jacob Zuma, who, despite being sentenced to jail, has not lost his right to attend NEC meetings as an observer.
In a sense, this may be directly related to the party’s stated aim of renewing itself.
Key to this is the Zondo Commission report and the release of its first part at the start of the year.
As part of its response to this, the NEC states: “We will put in place mechanisms to process any parts of the commission report that pertain to the organisation, its deployees or members and to consider how the commission’s recommendations can help to enhance the fundamental renewal and rebuilding of our movement.”
This gets to one of the key political questions of this year. There are now several people in the NEC who are likely to have adverse findings against them in the final Zondo Commission report. These include the liar Malusi Gigaba, Nomvula Mokonyane, Mosebenzi Zwane and several others (there is a much longer list of people to peruse on this).
These are people who sit on the NEC, which issued this statement. And while some, such as Gigaba, have resigned from their Cabinet positions, they have not resigned from their positions on the NEC.
Former health minister Zweli Mkhize, while not implicated at the Zondo Commission, is another example. He resigned from Cabinet but retains his position on the NEC.
Will the ANC allow them to remain in their positions if they go on trial? Could it be that some are even elected back to the NEC at the party’s conference in December this year despite the very public evidence that has been seen against them.
The issue of the renewal of the ANC is now clearly an electoral issue, and it seems from this statement that the NEC understands this. This is why that phrase is mentioned so many times in the final document.
It is also possible that the ANC is about to start its campaign for 2024 now, because it knows how vulnerable it is (it should not be forgotten that the most likely outcome of that election is still for the ANC to retain power with one small coalition partner).
This also folds into what may be the other dominant story of the year, Ramaphosa’s bid for re-election as ANC leader. He is still the most popular politician in the country by far. However, so many promises have been made and broken in the past that it is hard to see the party making huge progress in dealing with these issues over the next 12 months.
Which may lead to the ANC promising, again, in a year’s time, to create jobs and to renew itself. DM