How the ANC made Nkandla disappear

2014-05-04 15:00

The ANC has successfully prevented the fallout over Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report from derailing its election campaign.

Opposition parties hammered the governing party over the issue in the early part of the campaign, but careful management of public perception, combined with tight control over President Jacob Zuma’s public interactions nullified this.

The ANC’s propaganda machine kept its leadership on message throughout the campaign by arguing that it created the institutions that were holding government to account and those responsible for inflating costs would face the full wrath of the law.

By the end of last year, scripted notes were being distributed among ANC structures to ensure that responses were consistent from campaigners confronted with tough questions about the project and Zuma’s role in it.

At the same time, individuals like SA Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande and Young Communist League secretary-general Buti Manamela were left free to attack Madonsela’s credibility and the opposition’s onslaught.

Nominally independent groups like Concerned Lawyers and Educationists for Equality Before the Law, led by SA Democratic Teachers’ Union KwaZulu-Natal secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi and lawyer and ANC MP-elect Comfort Ngidi, also played a role in lessening the blow of Madonsela’s report.

They launched a public campaign to poke holes in the report while preparing for a legal challenge against it.

On the road, opportunities for disgruntled voters?–?or the media?–?to question Zuma on the matter were reduced to nil.

During door-to-door campaigning in Mpumalanga and the East Rand, Zuma was taken to carefully selected houses, ensuring that no embarrassing questions were asked in the presence of journalists, who were following the president.

A similar formula was used in other provinces and with other top ANC leaders like deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

The president’s programme was also tightly controlled – and chopped and changed – during the campaign, with far less access to Zuma permitted than during the 2009 general election campaign.

ANC elections head Malusi Gigaba said the Nkandla issue had not had any effect on the ANC’s campaign.

“[Voters] are more concerned about service-delivery issues. Elections remained primarily about service delivery and meeting our people’s basic needs. That’s the issue we need to respond to soon after the elections,” Gigaba said.

Three ANC volunteers told City Press that Nkandla had not been an issue in the campaign, except in some middle-class Joburg suburbs in the early stages of the campaigns.

They confirmed Gigaba’s view that ordinary people were more concerned about bread-and-butter issues than with Nkandla.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said the opposition parties had turned Nkandla into a mantra, which they had raised on every available platform.

The downside for opposition parties, he said, was that they had not spent enough time debating policy alternatives to issues like poverty and unemployment.

“Once the opposition went in for the kill, a sense of victimhood was invoked. The person being pursued [Zuma] started looking like a victim,” Fikeni said.

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