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The noise of the ANC’s inner battles drowns out the cries of suffering voters

The noise of the ANC’s inner battles drowns out the cries of suffering voters
ANC members at the Elections Manifesto Review at Orlando Stadium on September 03, 2023 in Soweto, South Africa. The African National Congress (ANC) aimed to interact with society on the road thus travelled since 2019, and priorities that lie ahead towards 2024 and the future. (Photo by Gallo Images/Papi Morake)

While the ANC is under huge electoral pressure, sometimes the actions of its government members can make one question whether they have the same set of priorities as SA voters.

It can appear that instead of focusing on reducing violent crime, ending load shedding and creating jobs, ANC government employees are concentrating on much narrower agendas. This strange tension between these narrow agendas and the ANC’s paramount need to stay in power is likely to continue 

Considering all the heat and smoke over the question of whether the ANC will remain above 50% next year, it is rational to assume that this will focus the party’s attention and streamline its efforts to please the public, or at least keep it from openly rebelling. The fear of losing an election should force party leaders, groups and factions to work together — if only to stay in power. 

And it seems obvious that the very best way to do this is to show voters that they are determined to fix the country’s biggest problems. 

While every person has different priorities, it is probably fair to say that for most voters, the three most important issues are violent crime, load shedding and youth unemployment.

And yet, there is no evidence that the ANC in government is doing anything new or innovative in these areas.

The police minister, Bheki Cele, is following exactly the same policy he did before the pandemic and the spike in violent crime. He moves from crime scene to crime scene, making promise after promise. But there is no follow-through, the criminal justice system is unable to hold people accountable, and the murder-detection rate is still below 15%.

In fact, the only province where violent crime is declining is the DA-governed Western Cape.

Press conferences and promises

The minister in the Presidency for electricity, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, holds weekly press conferences and makes promises.

Just a week ago, the Cabinet claimed that intense load shedding would be short-lived. But Eskom’s own data show the complete opposite, and that in fact, load shedding may be more intense for another full year.

This suggests that Ramokgopa’s weekly promises are not backed up by data or evidence.

Similarly, the government appears to have no new policy to tackle youth unemployment. The minister of employment and labour, Thulas Nxesi, is virtually invisible on the issue

Even the ANC Youth League has suggested he “looks like the Minister of Unemployment”.

More major issues for voters, such as high food prices, do not appear to elicit solutions from the government, despite the heartbreaking stories of mothers killing their children and themselves in absolute despair.

In public, the ANC is determined to remain in power. It recently started what may be almost unique in democracies, a manifesto review programme. This involves party leaders going to communities, holding rallies, and asking people whether the party has fulfilled its 2019 election manifesto.

There is much evidence that campaigning works, and this move may be a stroke of political genius, which could remove some of the sting of the anger that people are feeling towards the ANC.

It also requires huge resources and effort — it can hardly be comfortable hearing directly from angry voters at this time. 

But despite that, events this week show that leaders are focused on their internal battles. 

On Wednesday, News24’s Carol Paton published a report revealing that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan refused to accept the Eskom board’s nomination of a CEO for the utility. The stated reason was that he should have been provided with three nominees, while he had been given only one.

It was also reported that three of the possible candidates are backed by different ministers in the Cabinet involved in electricity. Presumably, this means that Gwede Mantashe, Ramokgopa and Gordhan each have a different preference.

It is now likely that making an appointment could take several more months. This is despite the promises made when André de Ruyter left Eskom that an appointment would be made quickly.

Personal agendas trump national interest

Considering that the government and the ANC say that resolving load shedding is a priority, this is astounding. And it suggests that some in senior positions in the ANC believe their own narrow agendas are more important than the national interest.

Another example of this narrow focus is recent comments by Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

On Monday, he spent much of a briefing about the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) claiming that “our detractors want to project NSFAS as being in a crisis because they want to discredit one of the most successful schemes of the ANC government”.

While he has every right to make this point, it is hardly what a student who has not received their money and does not know where their next meal is coming from wants to hear.

And while the NSFAS may not be in a state of crisis, the mere fact that its CEO, Andile Nongogo, is on leave pending an investigation into his conduct does suggest it has serious problems.

If Nzimande’s priority were to retain the support of voters it would seem rational to reassure them that the problems would be fixed, and then, crucially, to ensure that they were fixed.

Instead, he chose to follow a narrow bureaucratic approach.

There are other cases of this, where members of the Cabinet appear to speak more to ANC constituencies than to voters.

Critics will suggest that some people have been in government for so long they have no idea how tough life is for ordinary people. If you are a minister and have two houses, two cars, a generator and diesel all paid for by the state, it may be hard to understand how other people live.

Of course, people like Mantashe or Nzimande and others have had formative life experiences of their own, and have experienced poverty in upbringings shaped by apartheid.

But some in government may not understand the intensity of the feeling among voters — or they are simply choosing the wrong battles.

This is likely to have consequences.

If ministers choose to spend their time rearranging the deckchairs at Luthuli House, they will miss the electoral iceberg ahead. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    A great expose of the state of the nation – and DM readers of all persuasions could hardly argue against any point made. But I fear that the massive group of people who have voted to keep the status quo up to now have very little or no access to this information. That is a textbook scenario which has got in the way of the ideal of democracy nearly everywhere on the planet.

    • Alan Watkins says:

      You may be right in that many people do not have access to this information in the form of statistics, critical articles etc. But they have their lived and personal experiences
      1. How does electricity supply now compare to 5 or 10 years ago?
      2. There are millions of unemployed people. Has this improved over the last 5 or 10 years?
      3. What about crime where they live?
      4. and of course many other categories
      And the connection must be made that their political leaders made promises 5 and 10 years ago, but everything just keeps getting worse

      I am hopeful that even if many previously ANC supporters can not find it in themselves to vote for another party which promises to do better, and may even have a track record of doing better at local level, then they at least stay away from voting. Even withholding their vote from the ANC is a vote for a better life.

  • Kenneth Arundel says:

    Agreed. The information out here is a hodge podge of misinformation. I suspect some may like it that way. Cynical I know but its difficult not to be.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    “In fact, the only province where violent crime is declining is the DA-governed Western Cape.”

    Enough said. Vote for a better South Africa.

    (Oh ya, and the roads are good in CT, you should try them)

  • Denise Smit says:

    Good article but could have been more. What does Dlamini Zuma do in government? Etc. The only two ministers who are on track is Gdwongana but he is an island attacked by tsunami waves. The minister of Agriculture is also working for the good of the country. Denise Smit

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Unfortunately, this is what the anc is all about. Extremely self-serving, totally arrogant, endemically corrupt and completely aloof to all the pain and suffering inflicted on the country. They strut around as if they own SA and it is there for them to exploit, milk and line their pockets at the expense of all. If only the masses would wake up and to the reality i.e. destruction, damage, rapacious greed etc. and not believe a word of their the lies and misinformation, we could vote these criminals, predators and parasites out of office!

  • Erna Westdyk says:

    All very valid and true points, as the people living this life know.
    However, the powers to be, the ANC government/party, either does not read the newspapers or they arrogantly choose to ignore the problems, and concentrate on their ‘successes’, which only the ANC is aware of.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    It’s difficult for me to get my head round what an average safrican who isn’t party to a pipeline of tenders sees in the ANC that makes them their electoral choice. There’s something fundamentally wrong with the electorate and I fear this means we are doomed to decay till we collapse.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    A couple of questions come to mind from your article Stephen:

    1. Seeing Ramapoephol and Mashapiepie walking around in their election kit in the photo at the top, and remembering the nonsense Zim election, is the DM preparing for the election here, and the likely crookery from the ANC? We need international observers and the rest to come here and check it out.

    2. Could the DM also do a check on the Electricity Minister’s success rate with loadshedding/blackouts? For example, what ANC/Chinese/Russian function is going on at the moment – like with the BRICs conference – so that suddenly we have a very low level to make them think there’s no problem, when last week we were at Stage 6? Some sort of graph showing the links between them would be nice.


  • Jay Vyas says:

    If ministers choose to spend their time rearranging the deckchairs at Luthuli House, they will miss the electoral iceberg ahead.
    …… They have been too busy rearranging the Cadre Appointed Kickbacks & Entitled Chancellor House Tender Income – whilst banking on their ‘guaranteed sheep votes’ for the past 6 elections! ….. Hopefully this time the electoral iceberg sinks them!

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