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What Africa’s Oldest Liberation Movement can Offer South Africans

The launch of the ANC’s election manifesto is a moment to examine several aspects of our society. The party, still, has the biggest network of people on the ground. It is a moment to look at the balance of power within the party, as the manifesto should reflect various ideological and political strains within such a broad movement. After a careful reading of the entire document, one aim stands above the rest: this is a document designed to help the ANC continue claiming the middle ground, a bet that South Africa will continue choosing long-term sanity over short-term populist rhetoric.

The focus on Saturday, understandably, was on the televised speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Moses Mabidha Stadium, and on a rather long embrace between himself and former President Jacob Zuma.

While all of that was happening, the ANC released three separate documents. The first was the text of Ramaphosa’s address itself, the same words that he was reading on his iPad. The second was the official January 8th Statement of the ANC’s national executive committee. The third was a glossy election manifesto pamphlet, aimed directly at voters, many photographs of Ramaphosa (no images of Zuma, or, notably, even Deputy President David Mabuza).

The pamphlet is probably the most important document in terms of how it may demonstrate which concerns the ANC is responding to; it is a demonstration of the public face of the party during these polls.

However, in terms of analysing the internal dynamics of the party, the NEC statement is probably the most important document.

The ANC says that it drew up these documents after listening to its members and conducting research. The manifesto has all the hallmarks of a “well-polled” document. All of the issues discussed in traditional and social media are there, the problems in schools, in hospitals, the issues with civil servants generally and the resentment that appears to be bubbling in some quarters against foreign nationals.

This suggests that the ANC is listening to people, there is no focus on issues that actually don’t necessarily matter that much to voters. It may also suggest that, behind the scenes, those who actually manage the party’s machinery are very aware of how much of an effort will need to be put in to win the polls, and to win them convincingly. And of course, those around Ramaphosa will know how important to his own internal standing an overwhelming victory will be.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the official NEC statement is the land. In the public domain, the debate about expropriation without compensation has, inevitably perhaps, come to be dominated by the extremes of the debate. Yet, the language in the statement appears rather moderate. It merely states that “Parliament has undertaken extensive public consultation on land expropriation without compensation, in line with the resolutions of the ANC’s 54th National Conference. The ANC-led government has led the process around a far-reaching programme of accelerated land reform through an inter-ministerial committee chaired by the Deputy President and a Presidential advisory panel on land reform”.

In the pamphlet, it actually goes slightly further, making two points. It says:

“We will support the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution to clearly define the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can take place. This should be done in a way that promotes economic development, agricultural production and food security,” and…

“We will submit the revised Expropriation Bill to Parliament to provide explicit circumstances under which land expropriation in the public interest may happen without compensation. The Bill will ensure that laws regulating expropriation will include the principle of expropriation without compensation through just and equitable provisions set out in the Constitution.”

It is interesting that the pamphlet appears to go further than the NEC statement. Generally speaking, in both cases, the language is quite mild. This may suggest that the ANC does not believe the land issue is the most dominant issue for most voters. Obviously, this is, and will be, hugely contested, and is likely to be denied by many within the party. There will also be those who hope that the mildness of the language suggests that Ramaphosa has successfully managed to lower the temperature on this even further. It may also be that all the factions in the ANC are also aware of what might be the biggest stumbling block to major change; that a new constitutional clause could only comprise around 20 words, and an NEC that is almost perfectly divided is unlikely to agree on any 20 words very easily, let alone on such a crucial point as the land issue.

Either way, for investors, the headline may, in fact, be that there is no radical promise from the ANC to expropriate land quickly as a way of winning votes. For them, that is surely an important message.

One of the other intriguing elements in Ramaphosa’s speech was that the ANC will continue to encourage various forms of land ownership, “including public, private, co-operative, family and communal”. There is absolutely no hint of nationalising land here. The idea of nationalising land is currently the official policy of the EFF, as well as the stated preference of former president Zuma, who refuses to ride into the sunset.

All of the documents speak at length about the economy and jobs, about the lack of investment in the economy, and promise a plan to see that R1.2-trillion is invested over the next five years. The number is massive, roughly the same size as government’s annual budget. A quick look around you, though, may demonstrate how much that investment is needed. It’s needed in Eskom, hospitals, schools, water facilities, dams, roads, literally in everything that government touches.

Key to this, however, is investor confidence, both local and foreign. Financial Mail reported in 2018 on research that shows the top 50 corporates on the JSE alone have cash reserves of R1.4-trillion. This is money that is not being invested, it is merely earning interest, rather than being put back into the economy to generate growth for all. The reason, of course, is that these corporations do not have the confidence to invest in South Africa. The job of a responsible government, in this case, the ANC and Ramaphosa, is to sustain and grow that confidence, to take steps to get them to unleash the cash.

There will be some, within the ANC, as well as many from outside of it, who will say that there should be a system of prescribed assets, or that these firms should be forced, in some way, to invest their free funds. That would, of course, create long-term instability that would first and foremost punish ordinary citizens. Even just a hint of such a move could cause investors’ flight and playing with that sentiment is playing with fire.

What is clear from all of the documents is that the ANC is very much aware that the priority for most people in South Africa is jobs. But both their 2009 and 2014 manifestos promised large numbers of jobs. The 2009 manifesto ran into the hard realities of the global financial crisis, and the impact of Eskom’s load shedding. The 2014 manifesto appears to have run into a slowing economy, and was mightily aided by the crippling reality of State Capture.

Through it all have been the problems that the ANC has had in crafting economic policy. This has always been, and perhaps will still be, the party’s biggest problem, because it is such a broad church.

It is difficult to know if voters will buy the jobs promise for the third time. Much here may rest, in the end, on the shoulders of Ramaphosa himself, and his ability to create business sector confidence and the majority of voters’ trust.

It is also clear that the ANC’s research is showing up that many voters are deeply unhappy with the civil service. Much is made, in all of the documents, about the need for government workers to actually do their jobs quickly and competently. As the NEC puts it:

“Land claims must be processed faster, title deeds must be provided quicker. Housing projects must be completed on time. Textbooks must reach all learners, and clinics must provide medical services and medicines to those who need them. The police service and the criminal justice system must respond timeously to the cries of our people.”

Stories abound about the lack of service from government workers, and a distinct lack of civility. However, the underlying reasons that led to this situation have not changed. It is all to do with the ANC’s relationship with Cosatu and the entire structure of the tripartite alliance. While there were suggestions in 2018 that government and the ANC were preparing to lay off unproductive workers, that entire issue appears to have gone quiet.

In the end, it all boils down to the same calculation. Do the ANC and Ramaphosa have what it takes to take on the unions, to stare them down? In the past, the party has not been able to do this. Even Zuma, at the height of his power, was unable to force teachers to “be in class, on time, teaching, for seven hours a day”. And the SA Democratic Teachers Union was able to frustrate attempts to introduce external inspectors.

However, it is clear that the ANC is speaking from research to back up the claim from Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo that “we have to realign for us to be more effective and more efficient. Otherwise, people will vote this ANC out of power”.

As an aside in all of this, the NEC statement discusses the civil service, and then adds this comment:

“We include in this call the brave men and women in the media whose ethical and professional work has made it possible for our society to unearth the misdeeds that threatened to destroy our hard-won democracy.”

A moment of praise for the media from the NEC of the ANC is, to the knowledge of this reporter, completely unprecedented. In the past, during both the Zuma and Mbeki eras, the NEC may have publicly admonished the media, but never praised it. This is suggestive of how important the reporting of State Capture was to Ramaphosa’s ultimate (and close) victory at Nasrec. Some in the media may also interpret this as encouragement to keep unearthing wrongdoing by public officials.

The suggestions that Ramaphosa would announce big changes in education appear to have been correct, as he said that the ANC would look to ensure that children were being prepared for the changing demands of the world of work. His comments about how people need to understand how to use things like block-chain came with some credibility from someone who will only deliver his speeches from his iPad, and whose son is running an internet business. At the very least, it is an indication that some in the ANC understand how the world is changing, and how so many of our children are being left behind by those changes.

A moment that was perhaps unforgettable from Ramaphosa’s speech was his request for all of the men in the stadium to stand up, and commit to stopping gender violence, to stop attacks by men on women. The NEC’s language was equally emotional, saying that “we must hang our heads in shame that even as we make progress in forging a non-sexist society, too many women and girls face unprecedented levels of abuse, violence and murder – often by those closest to them”.

Certainly, this has become a major issue in society, and the ANC is correct to bring it up. The party deserves huge applause for changing the position of women in our society, it has surely done more than any other movement in this regard. However, its internal politics have led to a situation where someone like Mduduzi Manana almost had to be forced to resign as an MP after being convicted of hitting a woman, and then being accused of assaulting a second woman; where it took two years to charge former ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman with sexual assault where prima facia evidence was published in media in mid-2016, and where even the ANC spokesman, Pule Mabe, had to be suspended for alleged sexual misconduct. This is also a consequence of many elements of our society, including entrenched patriarchy. It is going to be very difficult to root out these problems.

One of the issues that comes up time and time again in all spheres of media is that of xenophobia. Radio talk shows can fill up with callers fulminating on the foreign nationals question if it is brought up in the slightest way. The fact that the DA is making this an election issue demonstrates that their polling data shows that this is of great importance for many South Africans. Herman Mashaba’s Twitter strategy is a further example of this.

The ANC’s election manifesto pamphlet addresses the issue in this way:

“Undocumented migration has an adverse impact on national security. We should ensure that those who come to South African do so legally and that the country knows what they do while they are in the country.”

It is clear that the ANC is following the demands of its voters in this case. It also can’t be left out in the cold by the other parties. While there may be those who could ask the party to take the higher ground on this issue, that may be difficult to do in such a contested election. However, it may also be trying to avoid making foreign nationals a major election issue, if only because raising temperatures on this issue is unlikely to end well for anyone trying to occupy the sane middle ground.

In the final analysis (for now), the ANC’s election manifesto attempts to do what the ANC often does – to occupy the political middle ground. It has been able to do this successfully for many years. But now it faces more pressure from both the left and the right than it has in the past. There is surely plenty of space for Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters to attack from the left, particularly on the issue of land.

The DA, which is also trying to make itself a party of the political middle of South Africa, may find this manifesto more difficult to respond to. Luthuli House is probably quite comfortable with that.

Daily Maverick

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