2021 EDITOR'S PICK
The former faithful have spoken. The ANC must listen carefully
Ramaphosa likes to take his time to fix things. Unfortunately the ANC doesn’t have that luxury any more
To celebrate our great content from the past year, Sunday Times Daily is republishing a selection of good reads from both our print and online platforms. Below is one of those pieces.
In the days ahead, there will be a deluge of words about how and why the mighty ANC was humbled by an electorate increasingly finding its voice.
The high priests of the congress movement will, however, quote from the good book: “We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We are crushed, but not destroyed. We are bending, but not breaking.”
It is what those loyal to the green, black and gold colours must say to each other to dust off the obvious rejection from the municipal polls. The ANC is in uncomfortable territory that’s becoming worryingly familiar. It writhed and twisted in pain when it failed to win Joburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Ekurhuleni in the 2016 local elections, even though it ended up running Ekurhuleni and Joburg through tenuous coalitions. This time, the oldest liberation movement in Africa has lost almost all metros except Mangaung in the Free State and Buffalo City in the Eastern Cape. And, for the first time, “the organisation”, as its members call it, has failed to garner over 50% of the total votes. The message from the electorate is unequivocal: do the right thing, or move out the way.
The situation is grim in KwaZulu-Natal, where the ANC ceded control of a large chunk of municipalities to the IFP.
Many will tell us that the ANC in the region was humiliated simply because of how it treated former president Jacob Zuma, implying that he should never have been incarcerated in spite of the Constitutional Court’s order. Nonsense. There will also be fleeting reference to poor service delivery, with many villages left without water, that basic source of life, for long periods. The ANC will promise to ensure that it does better next time without holding its own accountable.
But across our land, the organisation of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Peter Nchabeleng and many other luminaries is in no doubt about its electoral decline. The prospect of its decimation looms large as 2024 beckons.
The organisation of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Elias Motsoaledi, Peter Nchabeleng and many other luminaries is in no doubt about its electoral decline.
Why is the ANC in this mess and what must it do to help itself? Can it, in fact, extricate itself from the situation it is in?
The ANC itself is not short of good and honest analysis about its challenges. These were diagnosed when Joel Netshitenzhe, that gifted thought-leader, was still the man about town. The reasons for the ANC’s failure are many but two are critical. Poor service delivery track record is one. I know I make a general statement and that there are many pockets of excellence in government. The fact that these are pockets is what the problem is.
Take the much talked about Giyani water project, for example. Many of us are not that much interested in who is to blame, but in whether the ANC leadership will ensure that the people of Giyani do not use wheelbarrows to fetch water and, if so, when? The fact that the people of Giyani still vote for the ANC is abuse of the worst kind. President Cyril Ramaphosa and the minister responsible for water must not just talk about solutions — they must ensure the people get what they need. The same applies to many other areas of government performance. The local government auditor-general reports are a horror movie and stand as obvious indicators of how the system is broken.
Further, many ANC-run governments have something called service delivery war-rooms that are anything but war-rooms. The outcome of the local government elections and, importantly, what it portends for the future, must force the ANC to ensure that these war-rooms become actual war-rooms. They must make sure that services are provided. Those who can’t do their work, even if they’re known good cadres, must be cast aside because their poor performance is costing the ANC votes. It is either this or the ANC president becomes leader of the opposition in 2024. Talking about consequence management without ensuring actual consequence management is costing the ANC votes.
For the ANC to turn a corner, the message ahead of 2024 general elections from Ramaphosa ought to be: ‘We have dealt with the problem, as you have seen.’
That said, we all know that it profits many not to have the governance system fixed. ANC chair Gwede Mantashe captured this correctly when he said ahead of the municipal polls that people refer to ANC leaders as “amasela” (thieves). “It’s painful but its reality,” he told a NUM conference in October.‘
The problem with this second problem is that the ANC is kind of seen to be doing something to fight corruption, with a few high-flyers arrested but awaiting trial. Given the scale of corruption in our country, the electorate has unequivocally said being seen to be doing something about corruption is insufficient. For the ANC to turn a corner, the message ahead of 2024 general elections from Ramaphosa ought to be: “We have dealt with the problem, as you have seen.” It must be that obvious to everybody that there is no room for corruption in government. Those who kill people like Babita Deokaran, or sponsor such killings, must have no room to breathe. Anything short of that, anything suggesting the ANC is still grappling with corruption, will become its undoing.
Sadly though for the ANC, Ramaphosa is a slow, process type of a leader. He takes his time as if the ANC still has it. Years after he promised to do something about corruption, months after writing that open letter saying the ANC is a co-accused in corruption trials, months after the state capture commission laid bare all the thieving, Ramaphosa, the process guy, is still waiting for deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo to say for sure who is corrupt before he lifts a finger. Yet, to the ANC’s horror, the populace is embracing its power of the vote. The ANC is becoming a party in charge of village municipalities as it loses its grip in towns and cities.
In the days ahead, the ANC faces a possible paralysis of analysis even when it knows what its challenges are.
For it to be able to say, “We are crushed, but not destroyed. We are bending, but not breaking,” it must, even if it appears something akin to a miracle, change on its head its narrative as a party of “amasela” and ensure that government departments deliver quality services with speed. A failure to do this will see Ramaphosa’s successor becoming a leader of the official opposition as our democracy turns 30.