Zuma rallies clever blacks

2013-08-04 14:00

President is courting black professionals in an effort to consolidate votes in Gauteng come election time

President Jacob Zuma is wooing black professionals and opinion makers back into the ANC’s fold ahead of next year’s elections.

And several high-profile figures who have been out in the cold are responding to his call – among them former Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) and Black Management Forum (BMF) boss Jimmy Manyi, who is organising the constituency; disgraced former national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane; and businesswoman Danisa Baloyi, who cooked her political goose by backing Thabo Mbeki ahead of the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007.

The three are among the founding members of the Progressive Professionals Forum (PPF), whose launch Zuma addressed in Sandton on Friday night.

Manyi was ousted as president of the BMF last September. He remained an ordinary member of the organisation, but City Press has learnt that the reason he pulled out and formed his own organisation was because he was unhappy that the forum sidelined political issues under current president Bonang Mohale.

Critics say the BMF is focusing on training managers and ignoring issues like employment equity, broad-based BEE and collusion in the construction sector.

“This gives more gravitas to people such as Jimmy and people who are frustrated about transformation,” said a BMF insider. Mohale refused to comment yesterday.

Zuma used Friday night’s platform to tell the forum’s members that he wanted to hear their voice on economic transformation and political developments, saying “democratic forces” had taken a back seat in South Africa’s public discourse.

The organisation was launched in Gauteng, the country’s economic hub, where the ANC is facing a strong challenge from the opposition DA.

Research commissioned by the ANC in Gauteng suggests the party there is “in real danger of not making the 60% mark, and possibly only hitting the mid-50s”.

Zuma’s attempts to court black professionals also comes at a time when the country’s economy is in the doldrums, and follows SA Reserve Bank Governor Gill Marcus’ criticism of the state’s failed economic and labour policies this week.

As the elections draw closer, Zuma has been trying to use his public appearances to highlight the ANC’s achievements in office over the past 19 years to counter perceptions that it has failed to deliver on its promises.

“As a government, we are not looking for praise singers. We are looking for patriots who will tell us where we have done well, but also where we should do better in the interest of building a winning nation.

“You cannot build a nation through being negative, bitter and angry,” he said on Friday night.

“We do not believe in the notion held by some within the intelligentsia that the primary vocation of intellectuals is to assume an antagonistic posture against government, that intellectuals earn their mettle when they criticise government.”

It’s not the first time Zuma has taken aim at “clever blacks”. Last year, in an address to the House of Traditional Leaders, he slammed black people “who become too clever”, saying “they become the most eloquent in criticising themselves about their own traditions and everything”.

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said the PPF was not aligned to the party in the same way as the Progressive Business Forum, but that the ANC welcomed any views that help the country move forward.

“The intelligentsia should not be anti-ANC and government. We agree with the president that they must be critical, but they must give SA other options,” Mthembu told City Press yesterday.

He suggested the media and commentators were ignoring the strides the country was making in delivering basic services and improving health services.

“Are we patriotic enough in our articulations? I don’t think so. I don’t think we are able to present a picture of South Africa that has had problems, (still) has problems, and is marching forward,” Mthembu said.

The PPF – which is open to members of all races – publicly declares that it is a strong supporter of the ANC and will work with the ruling party in the elections next year, as well as help it to implement its election manifesto as programmes of government after the elections.

PPF general secretary Siphile Buthelezi said the organisation is not an arm of the ANC.

“We are group of professionals who want to play a meaningful role in creating a better South Africa for all. Yes, the majority of the founders of PPF are ANC supporters, but it doesn’t mean that if you are affiliated to a different political party you are not welcome.

“We have made it clear in our constitution about where we stand with the ANC and we are not going to change it.

“We believe the ruling party’s policies are in line with the objectives of the PPF. Anyone who decides to join us will have to accept and abide by our constitution.”

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj said Zuma was not looking for “praise singers” and that he accepted criticism where it was due.

Maharaj said there was a “legitimate concern” that a perception had been created that South Africa had done badly, and was worse off than during apartheid.

“The truth is that we have done better than any other country in post-colonial Africa, yet the overwhelming reporting is that South Africa is disastrous.

“Open any newspaper – you’ll think South Africa’s poverty has become worse. You won’t read that about the United States and Europe,” Maharaj said.

Launching the SABC’s 24-hour news channel on Thursday, Zuma said the “true and full South African story” was yet to be told.

He expressed hope that the channel would cover what was happening in the country “beyond the stories of crime and corruption, and open another window to what this beautiful country has achieved”.

Who the president listens to

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