Melanie Verwoerd

Can the ANC really not hear the anger of the people?

2016-08-31 07:13

Melanie Verwoerd

A few days ago in Johannesburg, I took an Uber to Sandton. The driver was a young man from Soweto who had studied tourism, administration and business. After a few years of trying unsuccessfully to get a job, he started to drive his brother’s car as part of the Uber group. As I got into the car, he suggested that we don’t take the highway. “Roadworks,” he explained.

Having been in Johannesburg frequently over the last few months, I am not surprised by the traffic issue, but what came next really surprised me. “F...n black government!” he exploded. Knowing that taxi drivers often make certain assumptions about political beliefs depending on your race, I quickly corrected him and told him that I was an ANC member for many years. Usually that would change the tone of the conversation completely. Not this time. “Well,” he said, literally spitting with anger, “then you can tell them a few things from me”. For the rest of the 30 minute journey he raged against the ANC.

He fumed against the lack of service delivery in his area and the lack of job creation. But what seemed to annoy him most was the way he felt the ANC treated people. “Gwede Mantashe said: ‘Black people are like Americans, they don’t vote’. Who the hell does he think he is?” He was almost screaming by now.  “And the president, saying we are clever blacks! Ja, who is laughing now? Us clever blacks!” Before I could get a word in, he continued: “There is only one problem in this country and that is Jacob Zuma. And let me tell you, he and the ANC have no idea how angry people are.”

This young man’s words were hard to ignore and it prompted a question I have been asking myself for some time: Is it possible that the ANC is not aware of just how angry people are? Could it be that 22 years down the line, those in the ANC structures have become so cushioned by power, positions and money that they no longer have any idea of the frustration and anger amongst the people they are meant to serve?

After the ANC’s dismal performance in the local government elections, the ANC announced that they would be trying to find out why so many voters turned their backs on the party. Astonishingly, four weeks later they seem to be no closer to an answer. But the signs have been there all along. Surely they must have been able to feel, hear and see the growing anger long before the elections?

According to Municipal IQ for example, service delivery protests have increased sharply since 2012 and are set to be the highest ever in 2016. These protests have increasingly turned violent as we have seen in many places, such as Vumani and Grabouw. Do the ANC leaders really need some analyst to tell them that people are simply no longer willing to accept the lack of the most basic services, while officials, politicians and contractors fleece the state coffers of hundreds of millions of rands to line their own pockets? Does it really surprise them to hear that the many people who are living below the poverty line and still waiting for houses, are furious when they hear that Prasa paid R600 000 per toilet seat for new trains?

Last year tens of thousands of students rose up in protest during weeks of unrest. Do ANC leaders really need research to tell them that young people in this country have a deep anger against the government and governing party, because they feel betrayed by the quality of the education system, the cost of higher education and the lack of transformation at universities?

And despite all the anti-feminist rhetoric, they surely would have seen from the reactions on Twitter to the four young women who protested against the pandemic of rape and sexual violence at the IEC election centre during President’s Zuma’s speech just how angry and betrayed women in this country feel.  

And even if they didn’t see or hear any of this, they must have heard the anger and warnings of the loyal stalwarts in their own ranks, such as Cheryl Carolus, Matthews Phosa, Ronnie Kasrils, Jay Naidoo, Mavuso Msimang, Trevor Manual, Frank Chikane.  The list goes on and on.

And even if they want to dismiss Malema’s rhetoric as a personal vendetta against President Zuma, surely they must realise that the tens of thousands that fill stadiums in red share their leader’s anger at the governing party and its leader.

But instead of acknowledging what is blatantly obvious to most people, the Zuma-led government chooses to go after Pravin Gordhan, takes control of the parastatals (in what can only amount to a coup in order to keep patronage in place), and for good measure also tries to stop Popo Molefe from further exposing the corruption at Prasa.

Of course, there are people in the ANC structures who are aware of the issues. The Gauteng ANC leadership warned for some time before the municipal elections that the behaviour of the president, the level of corruption and many other policy issues would cost the party dearly. Ironically, despite their warnings coming true, there are already moves inside the ANC to get rid of the Gauteng leadership, by those who are not able, or perhaps not willing to hear  the anger of the people.

But the ANC will ignore the anger at its own peril. The two commandments of the ANC: “Thou shalt not speak ill of the party or its leader, and thou shall never vote for another party”, have now been broken. And, as with most sins, when people realise that not only does the world keep on turning, but the sinning was actually quite fun, they tend to do it again.

So unless the ANC radically changes its ways, it will surely be in the minority way before Jesus comes again. Don’t take my word for it, just ask anyone in the street - or if you can find him, my Uber driver.

Before I got out of the taxi, he told me how he was asked to Uber a group of ANC members to the party conference in Sun City earlier this year. “I picked them up from the Michelangelo hotel. I couldn’t believe that they wanted to go all the way to Sun City, but they flashed the platinum credit card. When we got there they told me to keep the meter running and wait for them. I waited the whole day and then drove them back to Johannesburg and dropped them back to the Michelangelo. They gave me a R2,000 tip”. I asked how much the fare was. “R36,000”, he laughed. “So much for government of the people, hey!”

*Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and SA ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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