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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS ANALYSIS

Leaked audio exposes ANC election plan for government PR events to showcase successes

Leaked audio exposes ANC election plan for government PR events to showcase successes
A billboard in Polokwane featuring ANC presidential candidate Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Philip Maeta)

From aesthetic mortuary vehicles to books and solar panels, government has thrown itself into a spate of launches, handovers and cutting of ribbons to highlight the ANC’s delivery record as the 29 May poll approaches.

Government’s recent spate of launches and ribbon-cutting events is part of a deliberate election strategy that emerged in the leaked audio of April’s ANC national executive committee elections meeting.

“We need government and departments to submit … what projects they are going to launch or unveil between now and the elections,” ANC elections boss Mdumiseni Ntuli was heard telling the meeting in April, after having emphasised government had to “aggressively communicate” its successes.

Highlighting the need for a “seamlessly integrated” approach between what the ANC was doing and government interventions to complement this election work, Ntuli added, “Together we must plan: how is the ANC going to take advantage of this?”

Mid-April was given as the deadline for ministers, their provincial counterparts and departments to submit plans for projects, launches and the like, according to the leaked audio Daily Maverick has heard. And it seems the launches, handovers and cutting of ribbons have accelerated since April.

Leaders criss-cross country

On Tuesday in Gauteng, where cancer treatment often is beyond patients’ access – patients and civil society protested that day for the prioritisation of cancer treatment – the provincial health department launched 17 new mortuary vans, now known as forensic pathology vehicles.

“Aesthetically inside and out, the vehicles are designed to look more professional than the traditional bakkie-based mortuary vehicles, thus promoting and preserving the dignity of the deceased,” said a departmental statement ahead of Tuesday’s launch.

The labour activation programmes rolled out across provinces by Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi must be welcomed. But it’s late in his five-year term for what official statements describe as the “national roll-out plan to create more than 700,000 employment opportunities across the country”. 

Such an initiative could have perhaps been more effectively timed after the Covid lockdown devastated the jobs market.

But Nxesi and Communications Minister Mondli Gungubele got the thumbs up from labour union Cosatu, also an ANC alliance partner, for persuading the SA Post Office’s business rescue practitioners to stop 6,000 retrenchments.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande also left it late in his five-year term to establish a fund to support the so-called missing middle students – those from families too well off to qualify for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and too poor to pay tertiary education fees. 

The R3.8-billion support was finally announced in January 2024.

But Nzimande was not lagging behind in the handover stakes. On 29 April at a North West primary school, he handed over technology for a media laboratory for “modern-day teaching and learning services on computers powered by a solar photovoltaic energy system, which includes an inverter”, according to the official statement.

The agriculture, land affairs and rural development touted its new HQ as cause to celebrate “the significant milestone in the delivery of a world class building, within time and budget, through the public-private partnership agreement as part of the national government’s precinct development initiative”, according to a statement ahead of this unveiling.

While the 2024 State of the Nation Address was an earlier hook to showcase government delivery, the more recent rush of launches and handovers of anything from books to Limpopo’s Mmahlee public library to “a new cannabis investor” in the Eastern Cape’s Coega special economic zone has ministers and their officials bounding all around the country.

Sometimes they also try their hand at manual labour like fixing potholes – with a camera at hand. In early March, Transport Minister Sindiswe Chikunga did just that in Kwaggafontein in Mpumalanga

Coincidentally, Chikunga is lauded in the leaked ANC election meeting audio for her radio advert which, among others, highlights new roads being built as an example of how South Africa today is better than it was under apartheid rule prior to 1994.

Such radio and television government adverts were touted as central to outlining the governing ANC’s work done over the past 30 years in government.

Low public trust

No one can say nothing was achieved over the past 30 years, given, for example, increased access to housing, water and sanitation, education and a significant social security net. But voters frequently call out the politicians.

Criticism that politicians only show up to canvass for votes as an election nears is a sentiment often expressed on the sidelines of government launches and handovers.

This signals continuing low public trust and distance from government. 

Long-term studies like those done by the Human Sciences Research Council and Afrobarometer have highlighted persistently declining trust levels over the past 15 years – and put the governing party at trust levels around the 27% mark and opposition parties somewhat lower. 

Cyril Ramaphosa as President scored a 38% trust level in the Afrobarometer 2021 survey, a rating that helps explain why the ANC has him as the face of its 2024 election campaign.

Low public trust and scepticism extend to the month-long absence of power cuts, with some questioning whether this was simply a ploy to win votes.

Government, from the President down to Cabinet ministers and others, has been at pains to dismiss these perceptions.

Eskom maintains that the pause in scheduled electricity outages was due to better maintenance leading to improved plant performance. Of course, demand is also reduced as residents switch to solar, gas, paraffin and candles, depending on spending power.

The proof is in the pudding – and the return of the rolling blackouts will be closely watched for proximity to the 29 May election day.

Promises, PR launches and handovers on the election campaign trail are one thing. But what matters in South Africa’s constitutional democracy is consistently participatory, deliberative and quality governance. DM

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