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
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.
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