Who stole ANC swag?

The ANC’s man­i­festo, while re­al­is­tic, lacks the flair of the party’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts. It has been dis­tracted by de­fen­sive­ness, and the gap has been filled by the en­er­getic Maimane and Malema, writes

CityPress - - Business -

When it was un­banned, the ANC had swag. Its HQ in a build­ing do­nated by Shell, on the east­ern ram­parts of Jo­han­nes­burg, was a thriv­ing hub­bub over­seen by ex­cit­ing young tal­ents who be­came the face of the move­ment.

The old-timers ran the show, but the Young Turks gave it swag. Spokesper­son Saki Ma­co­zoma cul­ti­vated the cere­bral style that would later pro­pel him to great cor­po­rate heights. ANC Youth League pres­i­dent Peter Mok­aba, a pop­ulist par ex­cel­lence, was the yang to the yin of those craft­ing eco­nomic pol­icy, such as Tito Mboweni and Trevor Manuel. Join­ing Bar­bara Masekela at the helm of Pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela’s of­fice were Cheryl Caro­lus and Jessie Duarte. The place was a steam­ing hot­bed of to­mor­row peo­ple.

The Nats ne­go­ti­at­ing the han­dover of power then were dated by the ANC and its lay­ers of tal­ents. They looked like yes­ter­day’s peo­ple, yes­ter­day’s power hang­ing on to what seemed like ar­cane ideas of set-asides, mi­nor­ity pro­tec­tions and the power of se­curo­crats. The ANC, with its stated ideas of equal­ity for all, peo­ple’s democ­racy and pledge to limit the se­cu­rity state, was for­ward-think­ing in a world bring­ing down bor­ders. The apartheid gen­er­als sport­ing medals, the po­lice of­fi­cers spit­ting fire all seemed anachro­nis­tic, out of time and out of power.

At the Nel­son Man­dela Bay Sta­dium in April, it was the ANC high com­mand who were dated not anachro­nis­tic yet, but get­ting there. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma is wounded and, for the ANC, which has hooked its post-apartheid cam­paigns to strong fig­ure­heads, this is a huge prob­lem. It’s like try­ing to fly a plane with a faulty engine. On the stage, sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe, ex­hausted by the tense launch run-up, fell asleep. The high com­mand on the stage were all mid­dleaged or older; the party’s youth league is now cor­rupted and slightly volatile, no longer the de­pend­able source of tal­ent and ideas it has been. When his po­lit­i­cal obit­u­ary is writ­ten, Pres­i­dent Zuma will ac­count for how the young lions lost their growl on his watch.

In this cam­paign ahead of the elec­tion, the ANC has been dated by new Young Turks. The sym­bol­ism of a cam­paign led on two po­lit­i­cal flanks by two young black men now in op­po­si­tion to the ANC is a water­shed mo­ment in South African party po­lit­i­cal life. Mmusi Maimane of the DA and Julius Malema of the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) have changed the game. I’m not sug­gest­ing they will usher in a tec­tonic shift when votes are counted on Au­gust 4, but they have made the ANC look lum­ber­ing, slow and wounded, not nim­ble, sharp-wit­ted and way ahead of the po­lit­i­cal pack, as it al­ways was in the clutch of elec­tions I’ve been for­tu­nate to cover.

The ANC man­i­festo (see page 3) was hastily con­ceived. It has none of the golden nuggets the party al­ways buries in its pledges. It is a re­al­is­tic pledge that comes from the school of hard knocks of gov­ern­ing. In this, it is the most re­al­is­tic of the bunch of man­i­festos re­leased in April. But it lacks the imag­i­na­tion and flair that have al­ways been trusty at­tributes of the party’s pre­vi­ous ef­forts. This is be­cause the ANC has been dis­tracted (see be­low) by be­ing in a per­ma­nent state of anx­i­ety and de­fen­sive­ness.

It has been dis­tracted on this year’s stumps, a key fac­tor be­hind its lack­lus­tre man­i­festo launch.

And the gap has been filled by buoy­ant and en­er­getic Maimane and Malema. The lat­ter has set the agenda for two years in the na­tional body politic by re­defin­ing par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics and align­ing his rowdy fledg­ling EFF with the Public Pro­tec­tor. The EFF’s war talk drives elites bananas, but it works in his rump con­stituen­cies of lumpen­pro­le­tariat.

Maimane suf­fers the snooti­ness of the so­cial­me­dia cool crowd, who call him MyMoney and taunt but take a look at re­cent ral­lies to see some­thing. The DA has built con­stituen­cies among blue-col­lar black com­mu­ni­ties, and Maimane’s pas­toral style and flex­i­ble street smarts have built him a fol­low­ing. The EFF’s mil­i­taris­tic style, along with the ANC’s as­so­ci­a­tion with loot­ing, has prob­a­bly sealed the white vote for Maimane.

There are three months to go of this gru­elling cam­paign and a lot can change. The ANC pulls out the stops per­fectly in cam­paigns to se­cure its stag­ger­ing wins. It will no doubt do so again, but thus far the cam­paign has re­vealed how Maimane and Malema have come to oc­cupy dif­fer­ent and im­por­tant po­si­tions in our po­lit­i­cal sphere.

TALK TO US Do you think the ANC has lost its swag to the DA and EFF?

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