ANALYSIS: The real meaning of the ANC manifesto
It is simply broad brushstrokes of what could be expected, and plays second fiddle to its factional troubles
It would be interesting to know if there are people who make voting decisions based on the contents of election manifestos.
Party manifestos are ostensibly wish lists – delivery targets should the parties have the opportunity and power to implement them.
The ANC has had both but has never used its manifestos as checklists for delivery.
In this country we tend not to hold parties accountable based on what they pledge to voters on the election trail.
If that were the case, many voters would be a lot less charitable with the ANC based on promises to create jobs in successive elections since 1994.
Evidence shows not only an overall failure to produce employment for a growing population but mass job losses earning SA the top spot in the world for unemployment.
The ANC manifesto launched in Durban at the weekend had to be more than a list of promises. With policy uncertainty and factional divides in the party in the last term, it had to give clarity on where the ANC stands on big issues.
On some issues, particularly land and education, the ANC was forced into policy changes due to agitation from outside the party rather than intelligible debate within.
The shift on land, for example, created nervousness about property rights and security that exacerbated existing jitters about SA’s stability and economy.
The ANC manifesto now tempers the situation by spelling out that accelerated land reform would take place in a structured manner and that expropriation without compensation would not be sweeping.
“In this manifesto, we outline the elements of a plan to accelerate land reform, making use of a range of complementary measures, including, where appropriate, expropriation without compensation,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his address on Saturday at the ANC’s anniversary rally.
While this might assuage the concerns of those anxious about the ANC surrendering to populist pressure, it will cause further restlessness among those in its constituency who have been convinced that expropriation of land without compensation is a quick antidote to poverty and inequality.
Once the EFF launches its manifesto, which will pitch for wholesale nationalisation of land, the rhetoric on the issue will again be stirred up. The land issue will thus remain a pressure point and could develop a life of its own on the election trail.
The contents of the manifesto therefore are simply broad brushstrokes of what could be expected from the ANC. Recent history has shown however that the government mandate is determined by who has power in the party, and that is what ultimately matters.
For this particular election round, the key question would be how much control and leeway Ramaphosa has, as he is the key drawcard for the party.
There is also concern that he might not have too much time before the skulduggery and fightback campaign within the party paralyses his agenda.
For traditional ANC voters who had been disillusioned with the party in the past few years, and either switched their vote or stayed away from the polls, the messaging in the manifesto would be secondary to the vagaries in leadership.
It is not difficult to guess that if Ramaphosa was directly elected or had absolute control of the ANC, he would not be doing the egg dance he has up to now.
He would not be forced to retain people with deplorable track records in cabinet, such as Bathabile Dlamini and Nomvula Mokonyane, to maintain factional balances. He would also not have to toady to Jacob Zuma, as was the case in Durban during the ANC’s anniversary jamboree, to keep the former president’s constituency onside.
The list of candidates for the national parliament and provincial legislatures is also not under Ramaphosa’s control, and would be a key indicator of the balance of forces in the party as well as the ANC’s commitment to weeding out corruption and shame from its ranks. In his position as ANC secretary-general, Ace Magashule has more of a direct hand in the process, and, given his own reputation, would not be as bothered by disgraced candidates as others in the party might be. The final list, however, will be subject to negotiation and compromise, with attempts to weed out some discredited people to counter negative perceptions of the party. While the manifesto was presented by a united cohort backing Ramaphosa, policy and deployment is up to the ANC collective, which remains divided along factional lines and interests.
Even with the next electoral conference four years away, the ANC remains a contested party. This might be camouflaged during electoral season as the party closes ranks, but the battle for power is ever present.
Ramaphosa’s instrument to display his agenda and leadership capabilities, particularly on the economy and clamping down on corruption, is the state.
Still, he has to be cautious.
He cannot use state power and institutions against his opponents, inside and outside the ANC, but there must be demonstrable action against those involved in corruption.
To give legitimacy to his anti corruption commitments, therefore, Ramaphosa must ensure that the leadership of the security agencies are people of integrity so that the public perceives investigations and prosecutions to be credible.
As much as the ANC multitude was on exhibit in Durban to announce the party’s game plan for the election, many people will base their decision about whether or not to vote ANC on the activity around Ramaphosa.
If he is perceived to be weak, artificial or under attack, people cautious about voting ANC might withhold their vote.
The ANC not only has to hold its base but attract back voters it lost during the Zuma years to maintain its majority in parliament. This means getting back voters who switched their vote to other parties.
The manifesto on its own will not be able to do that. Conscientious voters will take more convincing.
The days of empty promises and entitlement to votes are over. This election will be a hard slog, and so it should be.