NewsSouthern AfricaSouth Africa: On the road with the ANC


Posted on Wednesday, 05 February 2014 14:36

South Africa: On the road with the ANC

Mantashe is a veteran campaigner for the ANC, here in East Rand, Johannesburg, 2011. Photo@Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty ImagesThe Africa Report takes you on a guided tour of Western Cape Province, where, in November, ANC secretary general Mantashe was urging new voters to register and rallying the party's base.

Next April, South Africans will vote in a landmark election: it will be the country's fifth free election and 20 years since the demise of apartheid rule.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) continues to benefit from the liberation dividend. It will win votes as the party that brought freedom.

There are many smells here, water that is stagnant, something burnt [...]. The smell is a sign that the area is depressed economically

Its leaders are all national figures who are long established in the popular imagination, for better or for worse. Yet its record in government is under fire.

The country's growing middle classes criticise what they see as policy drift, as well as the succession of corruption scandals that has implicated senior figures in the government.

For poor South Africans, still the vast majority, the election will be all about which party can deliver more jobs and better services.

The ANC's campaign to defend its record will be fierce against both new and established opposition parties.

The other factors to watch are the allegiances of the born frees, those born after 1994 who will have the chance to vote for the first time. Some activists and politicians reckon the born frees could upset some of the ANC's more complacent voter forecasts.

An ANC at low electoral ebb

Figures provided by the Independent Electoral Commission showed that just 12% of people aged 18 and 19 are registered to vote.

Among those aged 20 to 29, registration stands at only 65%. This is compared to 99% registration levels for those 60 to 69.

In November, The Africa Report accompanied ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe as he canvassed for support in some of the toughest areas on the outskirts of Cape Town.

A fiery debater and a political enforcer with a surprisingly effective campaigning style, Mantashe is known to ANC comrades as the 'Don of Luthuli House.'

Mantashe's job as secretary general of the ANC makes him the de facto leader of the party.

He runs the organisation and has led a relentless campaign to win over new members at a time of ebbing enthusiasm for the party at the grassroots.

Looking at the record of ossifying national liberation parties elsewhere on the continent, Mantashe knows well how complacency can undermine political legitimacy.

He cracks down hard on party indiscipline and knocks heads together to deal with factional rivalries.

From his office in Luthuli House, the ANC headquarters named after party luminary Albert Luthuli, Mantashe is running next year's election campaign, likely to be the toughest so far.

A type of duopoly has developed between Mantashe and Jacob Zuma, who is both national and ANC president.

Personal and power relations within the ANC are complex and sensitive; it is an organisation that prides itself on its collective leadership and responsibility.

That is under pressure after two decades in power, and there is growing disaffection with the party.

Mantashe tells ministers they are responsible to the party as well as the government hierarchy. "Mantashe is very clear. He doesn't beat around the bush. Ministers have to answer to him, and he is running the country," a senior ANC politician told The Africa Report.

Although the newspapers announce that the president appoints ministers, the ANC insists that it deploys cadres. That is, ministers are accountable to party structures.

The example of the ANC National Executive Committee voting to dismiss President Thabo Mbeki in 2008 resounds in the party hierarchy.

Government Enforcer

Party activists are fiercely loyal to Mantashe. They say he is batting for the party, trying to keep the government honest and answerable to ANC supporters at the grassroots.

Mantashe calls ministers to account and does not spare their sensitivities, reminding them when they have let the party down.

Party insiders say he has reduced grown men to tears and made others want to quit their jobs.

There is a toilet that serves 10,000 people. We must talk to that issue, and ministers must come and listen.

Elections within the party at the December 2012 Mangaung conference reinforced Mantashe's authority.

The would-be rivals to Zuma – Kgalema Mot- lanthe and Tokyo Sexwale – had hoped to draw substantial support from Eastern Cape, Mantashe's home province.

The birthplace of both Mbeki and former President Nelson Mandela, Eastern Cape was distinctly cool towards Zuma.

Yet Mantashe's barnstorming campaign around Eastern Cape, the third most populous province in the country, delivered the critical votes at Mangaung.

Zuma won after Mantashe scuppered his rivals' plans.

Hence the new division of labour at the top of the ANC.

In the 2014 national elections Zuma is relying heavily on Mantashe's skills and energy to shore up the ANC vote in the face of a rising challenge from opposition parties.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Mamphela Ramphele's Agang South Africa are targeting the middle classes, while expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters direct their populist message to the poor.

Only the DA has proved it has the organisation and resources to take on the ANC.

That is why there will be a battle royal for the Western Cape, home to Cape Town, next year.

The ANC has never been able to win the province outright.

It is now the bastion of DA power in the country, but that could change owing to demographics and the shifting political landscape.

Many staunch ANC supporters have moved from other regions to Western Cape, drawn by the prospect of jobs and a higher standard of living.

As the DA steps up its political ambitions – it talks about winning power in Gauteng, where support for the ANC has been waning – it may leave the back door open in Western Cape.

Certainly, the abrasive style of the DA's premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, has made her enemies within her own party and other opposition groups.

Some of these new parties, especially Agang, could split the anti-ANC vote in Western Cape.

So there is all to play for in the province and Mantashe blew the bugle for the ANC's charge there.

He flew into Cape Town in November to visit the poorest communities, who complain about bad services and government neglect.

His mission was twofold: to persuade these communities, most of them likely to back the ANC, to register to vote – especially the new arrivals – and to reassure them that the ANC has not forgotten them even though they are living under DA rule.

Just after Mantashe's arrival, hundreds of ANC supporters serenaded him at the local library by singing in Xhosa: "This is the Mantashe you see, for those who know him."

Mantashe beamed, happy to be away from the travails of party headquarters. "He is humble and he listens," said a local ANC member.

Tsunami, a bleak wasteland in Delft South just outside Cape Town, was the first stop.

It is far from the tourist itinerary and the million-dollar houses advertised in foreign magazines.

As the stench of portable toilets greets you it is unbearable and you want to just close your nose and eyes and run.

Retail Politics

Hundreds of shacks are knitted together so close that you can hear everything your neighbour is saying and doing.

It is hard to find space to walk through the alleyways.

Mantashe did some classic ANC campaigning: go to the people in their homes, see their impoverishment, smell the stench and listen to their grievances and their anger.

Music blared out across the settlement. It was the Boyz II Men song End of the Road. Mantashe stopped and asked a local if he was registered to vote.

He said he was and later told The Africa Report that he would vote for the ANC despite the poor services and high unemployment: "We receive a social grant, and that helps".

Evidently, the ANC's social security system is paying electoral dividends.

Next door, mother of three Nozuko Matikinchu was angry.

With her baby on her back, Matikinchu said she was tired of living in a makeshift shack, tired of corrupt local ANC politicians and the smell of urine and stale water.

She did not mince her words when telling Mantashe the problems she is facing.

Mantashe listened attentively and asked her if she was registered to vote.

Matikinchu answered yes, and the Mantashe visit may have swung another vote despite the complaints.

And so it went, Mantashe listened to their complaints and spoke in English, Xhosa and Afrikaans.

He went down well because he did not give the pat politician's responses.

"The biggest issue is that we must pay attention to the grievances of the people," he said.

"When people are not happy, we should not say they are wrong. You walk here. There is a toilet that serves 10,000 people. We must talk to that issue, and ministers must come and listen."

George Dryding lives with his wife and five children in a one-bedroom shack. He told Mantashe about his life: "There is no room. I am tired of the rain and cold. This is no way to raise children."

A vote for change?

Mantashe listened and spoke without making promises.

He told Dryding to vote for someone that will listen to him and change his situation.

Dryding liked the fact that Mantashe did not tell him to vote for the ANC. "I will definitely vote next year," he said.

Government ministers should come to Tsunami and places like it to address the people's complaints, Mantashe said, showing some frustration with his party colleagues in government.

"There are many smells here, water that is stagnant, something burnt [...]. The smell is a sign that the area is depressed economically."

Later, at a rally in the area, Mantashe urged people to register to vote and to stop watching television.

"If you are not going to vote, no one would listen to you. If you vote, you must elect someone who would then look after your needs," he urged.

Tsunami highlights the challenge for the rival parties across the country.

There are about 27,000 people in Tsunami who have not registered to vote.

The ANC campaigners believe many of these people would vote for the party despite the appalling local conditions.

First they have to persuade them to register and that party leaders such as Mantashe are listening to them and will change things.

With another five months before elections, Mantashe made a good start in Western Cape, but elsewhere senior ANC officials were struggling to get the message across.

The worst bumblers can expect a stern lecture from Mantashe once he gets back behind his desk at Luthuli House. ●


Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition










Music & Film



Keep up to date with the latest from our network :


Connect with us