For Mboweni's growth plan to succeed the ANC has to give up certain dogmatic positions that were formulated when 7% growth was the status quo, writes Adriaan Basson.
South African residents stand in long queues in Cape Town, South Africa on 18 May 2011 to cast their votes in the municipal elections. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Lulama Zenzile)
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Given the many indefensible and crippling problems facing the governing party, the 2019 elections will communicate an important message, writes Mpumelelo Mkhabela.
Every election has a unique feature.
For the majority of South Africans 1994 was
about the freedoms they had long yearned and struggled for. The snaking queues
said it all. For the minority, for whom voting wasn't entirely new, the dawn of
the new era triggered fear of the unknown.
With the apartheid wounds fresh, 1999 was
still about the past and its legacy which only the ANC was deemed qualified to
eradicate. But with five years of the ANC in power, the opposition had material
to begin to punch holes in its performance in government. In response to
shortcomings, the ANC would point to the difficulties arising less from its
weaknesses than the depth of the legacy of three centuries of colonialism and
apartheid. It was a fair point.
By 2004, there were signs the ANC had
gotten to grips with governing. It had built a proven record. It went on to
secure a two-thirds majority vote for the first time. The economy was beginning
to respond positively to the ANC's interventions. It reached a historic growth
peak by 2006.
In a few years, South Africa had moved from
bankruptcy under apartheid to a budget surplus. The credit rating agencies
accordingly upgraded South Africa. The government could afford a massive social
security rollout to cushion the poor, for whom growth did not translate into
Notwithstanding the turmoil within the ANC
in 2007, voters were prepared to reward the resilient party with another
overwhelming majority in 2009. Riding on the successes of the past, Jacob Zuma cruised
to power with his mshini wam of blatant
thieving of government resources. Whereas in the past there had been attempts
to stem the tide of corruption, (like the establishment of the Scorpions, and
the passing of many tough anti-corruption laws) under Zuma malfeasance
was raison d'être.
In the next election in 2014, the
electorate began to ask serious questions. Decline in voter support showed.
With little, if anything, to show on his own record, Zuma appealed to voters
based on general aggregate performance of the party since 1994. But that record
and the wounds of apartheid – however overwhelming the legacy – were beginning
to lose bite as mobilising factors. National conversations were increasingly becoming
about immediate past performance.
To its credit, though, the ANC could not be
threatened nationally because post '94 it had embarked on a massive branding
campaign. Even for those born after 1994 chances are that the first political
party they could recognise was the ANC. Brand recognition has become a
substitute for historical recognition. The ubiquitous T-shirts bearing the
faces of Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and now Ramaphosa, that people
wear casually in rural areas and townships have a huge brand significance.
The DA is far from reaching even a quarter
of that recognition nationally despite consistent growth over the years and
Mmusi Maimane's attempts to reach out to the masses in ways the DA hasn't tried
in the past. If it remains consistent
with its brand exposure, and hopes the ANC doesn't fix its blunders, the EFF
might get closer to the ANC's brand appeal relatively quicker with its brand of
has its limits
The innumerable problems arising from the
Zuma era brings to the fore the immediacy of the issues that affect people on a
daily basis, reducing the ANC's ability to appropriate its struggle credentials
fully. Zuma taught voters that however important, history has its limits,
especially when it is used to legitimate the capture of the democratic state by
uncouth business people.
As thing stand, there is a new struggle
against state capture and all opposition parties have a right to claim
credentials for it. Ramaphosa is trying to show a break from the state capture
era and to lead the new struggle.
But Ramaphosa faces a dilemma. He can't
convincingly appropriate the past while the country faces immediate issues of load
shedding, well-known corrupt people still roam the corridors of government, and
public debt and massive unemployment continue to grow, among other issues.
The opposition parties are using all these
to test whether the evidently unhappy electorate is confident to ditch the
mighty ANC. But declining confidence in the ANC due to load shedding and other
issues doesn't automatically translate into confidence in the DA, EFF or UDM. It
only creates possibilities for the opposition.
will communicate important message
Given the many indefensible and crippling
problems facing the governing party, the 2019 elections will communicate an
important message. If the ANC returns to power in eight provinces with a
comfortable national average support, the opposition, not voters, will have to
do serious introspection. It would mean the ANC's immediate past record had no
impact on voter sentiments.
It would mean the Ramaphosa factor would
have been powerful enough to compensate for the disaster of the wasted nine
years and the decline of the struggle against apartheid as a mobilising factor.
In fact, such a scenario will make Ramaphosa more powerful not only in the ANC
but also in society in general.
The opposition has very little time to dent
Ramaphosa's prospects. Like the opposition, he too is talking about the nine
wasted years. With such mutual distaste for what has happened, Ramaphosa wins because
he is using the power of incumbency to actively demonstrate that he is doing
something about it. Opposition parties need much stronger messages if they are
serious about taking on the powerful ANC brand led by someone who is seen as
more credible than the predecessor.
Yet, the ANC has never been so vulnerable.
But the vulnerability won't automatically translate into voter support for
opposition parties. Not because the voters are stupid, as some in the
opposition think. It's because the opposition itself is stuck on being the
opposition rather than an alternative government.
As I have argued on this platform, a weak
ANC doesn't a strong opposition make. The 2019 elections will tell us a great
deal about the opposition as it will about the future of the ANC as
- Mkhabela is a regular columnist for News24.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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