Political Watch

ANC remains vulnerable after 8 January Statement

ANC 103.jpg

Judged by its traditional 8 January Statement, delivered on its behalf over the weekend by President Jacob Zuma, the ANC is on course to follow in the footsteps of liberation movements across the African continent. (Read more)

The most pertinent characteristic of the statement was the lack of putting forward a single new idea with which to meet the future in a fast-changing world and country. For the rest it had much of a reactionary tone to it in declaring 2015 as the Year of the Freedom Charter and “unity in action to advance economic freedom”.

The 8 January Statement is the product of the ANC leadership as a collective, but for a large part they had Mr Zuma on Saturday sounding as if he was singing off the Economic Freedom Fighters’ hymnbook. And it was not only in tone, but also in some of the specifics he hinted at, like land redistribution and mining rights.

Another key feature of the statement and the occasion it was delivered at, was the racial undertones and complete absence of the spirit of reconciliation that had existed under Nelson Mandela during the early days after the CODESA settlement of 1993.

The occasion on Saturday in the Cape Town Stadium kicked off with a traditional praise singer telling the crowd he needed to exorcise the spirit of Dutch coloniser Jan van Riebeeck first before the rally could get underway. “I have to clear the spirit of Jan van Riebeeck from this place first,” he said.

What few people realise is that the praise singer was taking his cue from Mr Zuma himself who, the previous night at an ANC fundraising dinner, also dwelled on the country’s colonial history. He told the guests that “all the trouble began” in 1652 when Van Riebeeck landed in the Cape.

During the delivery of the statement references were made to “white monopoly capital” and that economic inequality and “minority privilege” persisted. The ruling party would use the means at its disposal to eradicate this and grow the country’s middle class, “particularly the black middle class”.

And again apartheid was blamed for the electricity crisis Eskom has delivered to the country. The statement being a leadership collective effort it must now be accepted that this is the official ANC point of view – despite overwhelming evidence that the crisis developed on the ANC’s watch.

Things to come

The 8 January Statement is widely regarded as a precursor to the President’s State of the Nation Address, which will take place on 12 February this year, and the priorities of government’s programme for the year.

Besides indications that the mooted controversial amendments to expropriation legislation and mineral rights will come to the floor of parliament this year, the judiciary has clearly been identified for some attention as well.

Already in December last year, after the November meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe identified the “functioning of the judiciary”, together with parliament and “factions of the media” where a “calculated attack on our movement” is ongoing.

Saturday’s statement also aimed some shots at the judiciary. The message to the judiciary was that there can be no true transformation of any system without a mindset change. “The ANC calls on some in the judiciary to apply the law and the constitution without fear, favour or prejudice and to resist the temptation to do otherwise.”

This comes against the background of the ever-increasing number of legal challenges against the ANC government and Police Minister Nathi Nkleko’s suspension of Hawks commander, General Anwa Dramat.

Municipal elections

Above all, the events at the Cape Town Stadium, and the run-up to it, were clearly the kick-off of the ANC’s campaign for next year’s general municipal elections.

A substantial part of the Statement was dedicated to municipal affairs, but it was mostly in general terms on issues like service delivery and calls that “every single cadre of our movement must know that his or her responsibility is to make local government function better by getting the basics right – wherever they have been deployed”.

There was, however, nothing specific to counter what Mantashe in December described as the flight of middle class and young people to the opposition, which is a threat to the ANC’s power at the polls.

In a leaked internal ANC report Mantashe wrote that the “threats to the liberation movements in the region are real, hence the need for the ANC to appreciate the reality of the threat, even in South Africa.”

It goes on to identify the youth and urban voters as areas in which the party is vulnerable. In the case of the youth, unemployment is problematic and the urban constituency, “as seen with our middle class in recent elections, is another soft spot”.

The failure of the 8 January Statement to formulate a new message and instead to hark back to the past, and appeal for support in this changing environment based on its history, is unlikely to stem the tide. As things stand the ANC looks set to suffer the same fate as so many other liberation movements.

by Piet Coetzer

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