Can the ANC be saved in the way that a fal­ter­ing brand can?

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

IN 1994, the idea that the ANC might lose power in South Africa was un­think­able. With elec­tions ap­proach­ing in 2019, the party is on the ropes. It’s an ex­am­ple of a strong brand al­lowed to de­na­ture, due to a string of scan­dals and an in­abil­ity to de­liver ba­sic ser­vices con­sis­tently. The ques­tion is, can it be saved? Lessons learnt from the busi­ness world sug­gest that fal­ter­ing brands can be saved if they ad­dress what is killing them.

Strat­egy con­sul­tant Tha­bang Mot­sohi ar­gues that when sales and prof­its de­cline in a busi­ness – read when votes de­cline in pol­i­tics – it means that the brand has started to erode and the faith that its ad­her­ents have is wan­ing.

Re­build­ing it can be chal­leng­ing and dis­rup­tive, as­sum­ing the man­agers of the brand re­alise they are fail­ing their sup­port base, for fail­ing that, it is im­pos­si­ble.

To start, the prob­lems that caused the de­cline must first be recog­nised and fixed be­fore the brand re­build­ing can re­sume.

Brand man­age­ment the­ory and strat­egy em­pha­sise two fun­da­men­tal trans­gres­sions that can lead to the demise of a brand: vi­o­lat­ing the brand prom­ise and jet­ti­son­ing the val­ues that are im­por­tant to the brand and its sup­port­ers.

The ANC de­vel­oped into a pow­er­ful brand over its 104-year his­tory in a way that in­spired de­vo­tion among its fol­low­ers that bor­ders on the re­li­gious. But Africa’s best­known lib­er­a­tion move­ment is in trou­ble. For the first time since 1994, the ANC faces the risk of los­ing power.

In busi­ness, and in pol­i­tics, brands can dis­ap­pear ir­re­spec­tive of how strong they might have been at a par­tic­u­lar time. The same is true of the ANC. De­spite Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s claim that the ANC will rule un­til Je­sus comes, the party runs the risk of im­plod­ing if it doesn’t recog­nise its prob­lems and rein­vent it­self.

The han­dling of scan­dals by ANC lead­ers to date is not re­as­sur­ing. Its prom­ise of free­dom, peace and a bet­ter life for all, as well as a fu­ture of hope and democ­racy, is vi­o­lated by a grow­ing list of mis­de­meanours. They in­clude the Nkandla de­ba­cle and se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions that the pres­i­dent, his fam­ily and al­lies are ben­e­fit­ing from du­bi­ous deals with the Gupta fam­ily.

The fact that the econ­omy is in re­ces­sion, the ranks of the job­less are grow­ing and that in­vestors are giv­ing South Africa a wide berth be­cause of crony­ism, un­cer­tainty and cor­rup­tion means that the ANC is seen as un­able to gov­ern with in­tegrity and com­pe­tence.

Some within the ANC are aware of the fact that the party has lost its way. The re­sis­tance to a Zuma way is grow­ing. Ex­am­ples in­clude com­ments by Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC mem­ber of Par­lia­ment Makhosi Khoza. With more se­nior party mem­bers speak­ing openly about the short­com­ings of the or­gan­i­sa­tion, there is a glim­mer of hope that the brand can be saved.

Johnny John­son, a brand and com­mu­ni­ca­tions strate­gist, ar­gues that ev­ery­one in an or­gan­i­sa­tion needs to live up to the brand prom­ise. But, he says, an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s lead­ers are re­spon­si­ble for look­ing af­ter the brand, en­sur­ing it has in­tegrity. Tak­ing from the Free­dom Char­ter, the ANC preaches equal­ity, pros­per­ity and se­cu­rity. It says its core val­ues are build­ing a coun­try that’s united, based on prin­ci­ples of non-racial­ism, non-sex­ism and is demo­cratic and pros­per­ous.

But the ANC has stopped liv­ing up to these val­ues. Ser­vice de­liv­ery is che­quered, ten­ders are go­ing to con­nected fam­i­lies and friends, laws are openly flouted, the elite gov­ern­ing class is dis­con­nected from real life, pock­ets are be­ing lined and para­noia rules. It’s like an am­pli­fied ver­sion of a res­tau­rant that now only caters for its own staff and treats pay­ing cus­tomers with dis­dain.

To fix its brand, the ANC needs moral guardians who will en­force and pro­mote the party’s core val­ues. Op­po­si­tion par­ties are wait­ing in the wings to cap­i­talise on the ANC’s weak­nesses. So, what can the party do to stave off this chal­lenge?

A good place to start would be hon­est self-search­ing and a re­al­i­sa­tion that the party needs to serve the coun­try and not it­self. Per­haps a good old fash­ioned “SWOT” (strengths, weak­nesses, op­por­tu­ni­ties and threats) anal­y­sis might help the sit­u­a­tion. It must clearly iden­tify, among other things, the party’s core val­ues, strengths that it can build on and the weak­nesses that have led to its cur­rent state. And then to de­cide if it is a party that puts the coun­try and all its peo­ple first, or if it caters only to one tar­get au­di­ence and doesn’t care about alien­at­ing oth­ers.

An hon­est self-ap­praisal and re­sis­tance to spe­cial in­ter­est fac­tions is key to an anal­y­sis that in­forms fu­ture strate­gies of re­build­ing or re-po­si­tion­ing the ANC brand. One of the few strengths of the party is the fact that it has been in govern­ment for a very long time and has done quite a lot of good.

It should high­light some of these achieve­ments while re­it­er­at­ing and act­ing on the noble am­bi­tions of 1994. It has to put able and hon­est peo­ple in po­si­tions of in­flu­ence, not com­pli­ant and greedy cadres whose self-in­ter­est is a de­ter­rent to eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, growth, op­por­tu­nity cre­ation and non-dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The ANC also has an op­por­tu­nity to re­new it­self by pro­mot­ing a new breed of un­cor­rupted young lead­ers and tak­ing strong ac­tion against those seen to be tar­nish­ing the brand or play­ing to the tune of an al­ter­nate or cap­tured state.

Thus far, the party has failed to take this op­por­tu­nity with all the en­thu­si­asm and pur­pose that it is ca­pa­ble of. This brand is in trou­ble. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

• Ray­mond van Niek­erk is ad­junct pro­fes­sor, with ex­per­tise in brand­ing, mar­ket­ing, busi­ness strat­egy, cor­po­rate cit­i­zen­ship and so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, at the Univer­sity of Cape Town

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