Faced with an internal poll pointing to an insecure and “marginal” election victory in the North West, the ANC yesterday unleashed President Cyril Ramaphosa on a mission to “ignite” the campaign machinery in the embattled province.
But like an old jalopy, the party’s provincial manifesto rally in Rustenburg struggled to get into gear.
This was blamed on a “well resourced” campaign to sabotage Ramaphosa as part of a plot by opponents in the ANC to build a case for his removal as party president at the ANC’s upcoming national general council next year.
“We cannot allow that the president of the country be weakened like this,” said a high-ranking ANC leader. Ramaphosa had been scheduled to speak at 10.30am but the programme was delayed for hours as only a few of the expected 40 000-plus crowd trickled into the Rustenburg showgrounds.
Interim provincial task team convenor Obed Bapela told City Press that internal polling showed that the ANC’s majority in the North West was marginal.
This required the party to “double the efforts” if it was to retain control of the province.
“That is why we are bringing [Ramaphosa] here – to ignite this machine and get it going,” said Bapela.
City Press learnt that as many as 400 buses were expected to transport supporters and members to the rally, but most were suddenly unavailable on the day because of another “block booking”.
“You should ask yourself who has so much money to block book so many buses at once,” said a frustrated provincial leader as the time set for Ramaphosa to take to the podium was continuously pushed back to allow for a decent crowd.
Others blamed an unexpected “bus strike”.
In Mafikeng, the travelling delegation only knew about transport arrangements late the night before and selected people were notified.
According to a senior organiser, the ANC received a warning on Friday night that there was a plot to set the buses on fire, forcing the party to arrange security guards.
However, another insider said on Friday evening that the buses had not been paid because of poor planning.
A scheduled ANC provincial preparatory meeting at the Rustenburg Civic Centre was abandoned on Friday because of absenteeism.
Bapela said the absent members were busy “doing ground work”, adding that the meeting was not too important as it was “merely administrative and not meant for decision making”.
On Thursday, City Press received a digital pamphlet advertising a “branch manifesto launch” in Ward 41 in Madibeng in Brits, citing former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo as the keynote speaker.
“It is like saying you will be having a state of the ward address,” a Ramaphosa lobbyist said about the planned event, adding that it was a sign of defiance as it had not been sanctioned by the party.
Contacted for comment, Mahumapelo said: “It was just an honest mistake through excitement by Ward 41 in Madibeng, where I was deployed for a build-up event. But they corrected it and put the president’s face”.
He said it was “nothing serious to worry about as far as I am concerned, and it is very difficult to control social media”.
At the rally yesterday, Mahumapelo kept a low profile.
When he finally took to the stage some three hours later, Ramaphosa told the crowd that the North West is the home of the ANC.
“It shows, and even those who hate us can see. They can see with their own eyes that this province loves the ANC even when it is difficult and dark,” he said, adding that the turnout showed that “no one could turn the people against the ANC”.
He said that the ANC leadership elected at the national conference in Nasrec in 2017 had a mandate to unite and renew the ANC.
Ramaphosa said efforts to unite North West did not kick off smoothly, which prompted the national executive committee to call for a “cease war”.
“The time to put down your arms is now so that we can all focus on the elections,” he said.
Ramaphosa said all other outstanding issues would be attended to after the election on May 8.
Describing the ANC manifesto as “the best”, he added that some opposition parties were even copying its contents.
He ended his address by saying that smaller parties fancied themselves able to topple the ANC in the North West and urging the election volunteers to go out in full force and “show them that they are just dreaming”.