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