Opinionista Susan Booysen 27 June 2018

ANC’s election manifesto moment of truth

As it crafts its 2019 elections manifesto the African National Congress faces a prolonged “moment” of truth. The moment brings the confluence of citizenry Ramaphoria and a fractious ANC, a party in which forces of the Zuma past are still hoping to stop a Cyril Ramaphosa order from surging ahead and gaining electoral endorsement.

Such a forward surge is required not just to confirm that it is possible for a new ANC to emerge, but because voters will be viewing any ANC election manifesto with suspicion – until the break with the past is confirmed. ‘

The ANC of 2018 will in essence be reinventing the elections manifesto wheel. There is little that these manifestos have not promised before. Thus, besides this reinvention of the wheel, the ANC will have to show that it is a new ANC that is speaking, that this new ANC is internally consolidated and coherent, and that the manifesto voice asking voters to re-elect it is the unchallenged voice of the ANC.

It is this type of forward surge that the ANC seems to aspire to with its project of forthcoming election manifesto forums across the provinces, building on the process launch on 25 June. (For the sake of declaration of “non-interest”: this analyst was not part of the ANC’s Irene election manifesto workshop.)

Early indications are that the ANC hopes to handle the question of unity and “which ANC is speaking” through emphasising the notion of “one organisation, many voices. Note Ramaphosa’s words of “we need a mixed leadership; a leadership that has different perspectives different approaches; voices to be brought together to enrich the processes of the ANC”, and that the manifesto should be “one message told with many voices”.

The ANC hopes that its extensive, participatory and public manifesto process will not just position the party at the centre of the election 2019 discourse, but also create a heave that will remind ANC members to fall into line as the clock of approaching elections ticks away.

Ramaphosa referred to the policy-content requirements of the ANC’s 2019 manifesto when addressing the Limpopo conference of the ANC over the weekend of June 22-24.

We want to approach the next administration armed with policies that no other organisation can match. This is in addition to the best policies that we had formulated.”

He undertook that those policies would also be implemented.

Come the full-blown election campaign, the ANC will have to build the credibility of the manifesto claims – South African voters, after all, have seen it all when it comes to campaign promises on, for example, land reform, restitution, pairing land reform and agricultural enterprise, ensuring that rural communities enjoy full land rights… the list goes on.

Core election slogans are good indications of the message a party like the ANC takes to the voters. “Together we move South Africa forward” – which was hardly distinguishable from 2009’s “Working together we can do more” – was the ANC’s 2014 attempt to unite South Africa behind the ANC. It was a time when the doubts about then president Jacob Zuma were already rife.

The brimming full-poster Zuma smile of the 2009 campaign posters was replaced in 2014 with a smaller, almost-hidden image of Zuma’s face. The party could, after all, not have a campaign without featuring its own president.

The ANC’s 2019 chief election posters will be a tell-tale of the state of the ANC. Will the party be united enough and confident in this unity, assured that there will be no internal backlash if Ramaphosa is the centrepiece of the campaign? This question reminds one of 1993-94 when a phalanx of ANC leaders beyond Mandela took time to realise the campaign and subsequent governance benefits of the face of Nelson Mandela.

On the best-policies-ever front it will be informative to see how the ANC circa 2019 differentiates its core message from Thabo Mbeki’s second-round 2004 era “A people’s contract to create work and fight poverty”, in which it proclaimed that it was “learning from experience – we can do more, better”.

The 2019 Ramaphosa message might also resonate with Mbeki’s 1999 campaign of “Together, in every sector, fighting for change”. Change, this time around, would however have to be defined far more concretely.

National unity in diversity, building on experiences and achievements since 1994, inclusive growth to bring decent work and sustainable livelihoods, rural development, programmes for the youth, women, workers, rural masses to bring jobs, land rights, education, health … These have all featured in ANC manifestos, multiple times.

Why, therefore, should voters believe that this Ramaphosa ANC will do better, that it is more credible than its predecessors? It would have to persuade voters that the Nelson Mandela era of hope, thus 1994’s “Better life for all/now is the time!” is actually on the cards.

Voter uncertainties and cynicism have replaced the unambiguous optimism of 1994; the ANC’s 2018 task is close to colossal.

Perhaps it will be a good exercise to ask the ANC to formulate an imaginary 2024 manifesto in 2018. That would be the best test of Ramaphosa’s wish that the manifesto must “transport our people to the future they yearn for”. DM

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