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The ANC’s Magical Listening Tour — an ambitious, risky and possibly rewarding election move

The ANC’s Magical Listening Tour — an ambitious, risky and possibly rewarding election move
ANC signage at the party's 55th national conference at Nasrec in Johannesburg, South Africa on 16 December 2022. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The ruling party is holding a series of rallies and public events aimed at reviewing how it has succeeded in fulfilling the promises it made in its election manifesto in 2019. Its leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, says the party should be judged on its track record since 1994 and not just the past few years. This appears to be an attempt to draw the sting of voters’ anger well before next year’s general election.

The past few days have seen a flurry of public appearances by ANC leaders and, in particular, President Cyril Ramaphosa.

On Saturday, he hosted an engagement with journalists at which he explained how the party wants to review its 2019 manifesto with voters. 

On Sunday, the ANC held a rally in the Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto, where he spoke about the party and what it offers voters.

Later that evening, Ramaphosa addressed the nation about the BRICS Summit and the findings of the independent panel investigating allegations that arms were loaded on to the Russian ship Lady R.

There are other indications that some in the ANC are suddenly displaying increased energy.

The public enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan, wrote in an op-ed in the Sunday Times that he was determined to fix the problems at Transnet, while the minister in the Presidency for electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, has been making weekly promises about how the government is trying to resolve the power crisis (despite his promises, there is little evidence the ANC in Parliament is managing this properly). 

One of the problems the ANC now faces is that there is much evidence that for almost everyone in South Africa, life has become much harder since it won the last national elections in 2019.

Food prices are higher, violent crime is on the rise and people are poorer.

While part of this is due to the pandemic and its aftermath and Russia’s war in Ukraine, a great chunk is due to the ANC’s ever-failing governance.

In but one example, it has failed to appoint proper leadership to the police, despite the fact that the percentage of murders solved is now below 15%.

(In the other corner, it has tried to intervene in food prices, with Ramaphosa telling Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Black Sea Grain Deal should be reinstated).

Things fall apart

For many people, the biggest problem, however, is the ANC’s failure at local government level, where most services are simply falling apart. It is on this track record that the party is likely to be judged in 2024.

There is evidence that life in the DA-governed Western Cape is better than in most other places in SA (unsurprisingly, this notion is contested).

This may then be one of the reasons that Ramaphosa, rather conveniently, suggested over the weekend that the ANC should be judged on how life has changed since 1994, and not just over the past few years.

This follows a pattern of other ANC leaders referring recently to apartheid. Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu said last Friday in reaction to the Joburg CBD fire, “Whether we like it or not, this is the result of apartheid that kept people apart in these conditions, and we are expected to change these conditions in 30 years. But where we have to take responsibility, we must take responsibility.” 

No matter how hard it tries, however, the ANC’s argument that it should be judged on the entirety of its time in government is likely not to be taken seriously by many voters.

It suggests that the only bar by which the ANC should be judged is apartheid, that all it has to do to win votes is to be better than a system of oppression that was condemned by the world.

And it does not explain at all what Ramaphosa said were “nine wasted years” under former president Jacob Zuma.

The argument that life is better now than it was in the past is the kind of assertion that the leader of any failing government would make. It is used to perpetuate the kind of life that most people are now forced to live, suggesting things will not get better in future.

It is unlikely that this will resonate with voters, particularly because it removes agency from Ramaphosa.

It does not, for example, explain why he and the ANC are so spectacularly unable to act against corruption and incompetence within the party’s ranks. Or why during the pandemic it was ANC cadres and their friends and family who spearheaded the worst corruption

This latest election messaging ploy seeks to absolve the ANC from blame and any sense of responsibility.

Stealing from your own people is a crime; stealing during the pandemic is a crime against humanity

While the ANC is likely to find this a tough sell among many voters, the process itself, of reviewing its manifesto, may well be a successful strategy.

It is showing that it, perhaps almost uniquely among SA’s political parties, follows a democratic process. By going to voters and explaining what it has done wrong, it says it is hearing people’s complaints — and that it will reduce their levels of frustration.

The ANC has been able to do this in the past and has almost campaigned against its own track record from time to time (this happens just after a change of leader as when, after Mbeki, Zuma promised to make Aids and crime his priorities and, after Zuma, Ramaphosa promised “renewal”).

A spotlight on the President

Ramaphosa will be central to this campaign.

While just three months ago he faced claims he was not engaged in his job, now he is suddenly the centre of attention.

One of the major reasons for this may well be the apparent success of the BRICS Summit. While there had been dark warnings that the entire event could be reduced in stature, or overshadowed by Putin’s possible attendance, instead, it turned into a personal triumph for Ramaphosa.

Also, it appears that the power relationship between Ramaphosa and his deputy, Paul Mashatile, has changed significantly, largely because Mashatile faces serious questions about his lifestyle, which he and his political associates have failed to answer satisfactorily.

While Ramaphosa has generally been more popular than the ANC, it is difficult to believe he is still the huge electoral asset he once was.

Phala Phala, the pandemic corruption on his watch and his failure to live up to his promise to “renew the ANC” (or even remove those from his Cabinet with State Capture Commission findings against them) all make it unlikely he can keep attracting the same number of votes for the ANC as he did in 2019.

That said, it is still only the ANC that can embark on a campaign of this ambition. And it is only the ANC that will be able to hold such an exercise of “listening” to voters about all that has gone wrong in the past few years.

If this campaign goes well, it is likely to be rewarded by some voters, and that could make all the difference in a very tight election. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    The only selling message the President and the party has over is to blame apartheid for ever and to latch on to the message of the EFF that everything wrong in the country is because of the white people and colonialism. It was comical how shocked the journalists was when he said there is no expertise in government because of apartheid , after 30 years. I am sure your optimism will be awarded because selling this message to uneducated people who can not read and write , because of the education system destroyed by the ANC is an easy sell. The only work which bring in money to uneducated is to drive Taxis. That is why we have the Taxi wars. A fight for territory. Yes the grossly left behind people , because of the ANC will still vote for the ANC/EFF. They believe everything they tell them. That things will magically get better. Just get rid of white people and hurt or kill them and take everything they have. There is no other message that I hear. Denise Smit

  • Iam Fedup says:

    There is one thing that Mr. Grootes has not included in this insightful analysis: the sheer stupidity/gullibility of the average ANC and EFF voters. Of course, it’s not unique to SA. When Americans even mull over putting a criminal back in power for another four years, that tells you everything you need to know.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    You are too kind

  • Michele Rivarola says:

    It is quite simple. Why is the opposition successful in the Western Cape? Because it has a plan and leaders. Why is the opposition not successful nationally? Because it has no plan and no leaders. Like or not the ruling party presents policies and plans whilst all the opposition seems to be able to do is present anti ruling party rhetoric irrespective of whether it is the truth or not. If opposition parties want to increase allure they should start speaking of what they are going to do to deal with poverty, unemployment, inequality, job creation, growing the economy, increasing FDI, etc. etc. rather than bleating solely about the failures of government whilst talking of a pact but fighting amongst each other for the proverbial banquet’s spoils.

  • Michael Forsyth says:

    ““Whether we like it or not, this is the result of apartheid that kept people apart in these conditions, and we are expected to change these conditions in 30 years. But where we have to take responsibility, we must take responsibility.” “. WTF. You have had THIRTY flippin years to do something. In the DA run uMngeni Municipality in KZN they reversed the ANC hopelessness in less than a year.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    😀😀😀😀😀😀 the complete farce that is the ANC.

    Screw everything up for everyone, all the while listening to nothing. Then when you’ve totally destroyed the country, say “ag shame, tell us your issues”.

    They are not worthy of our citizens’ spit.

  • Senzo Moyakhe says:

    The ANC misses the mark by a couple of hundred miles in this electoral campaign effort. The attempt to place a retrograde assessment message will not resonate with today’s constituencies, except perhaps in rural areas. The reality of urban conditions will be the judgment yardstick and the urban population will be looking at life today. Township conditions are crap and people are gatvol, they will be looking in other directions or will simply take election day as a holiday to chill at local tshisa-nyamas or taverns.

    The ‘look back & judge’ message will be reinforced in the rural areas, where the ANC will seek its vote numbers.

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