Do people still believe the message of the ANC?
The ANC, the “parliament of the people” is undoubtedly in the belly of the beast, embroiled in a crisis that is greater than any it has experienced since the class of 1994 first walked the hallowed passages of the Union Buildings.
The ANC’s ability to provide solutions to problems that have echoed in each democratic elections has been sternly questioned.
The chants of freedom that once lit the eyes of past generations bear less significance to the average youth, whose revolutionary instinct is rather invoked by a tweet rather than a speech at a rally, and the disenfranchised mother who has been waiting for an RDP house since the turn of the 1990s.
The communication machinery of the ANC has undoubtedly moved with the times since the days of Radio Freedom to reach its wider constituency.
But the relevance of its message will always correlate with its legitimacy in the eyes of those it promised to take to the promise land.
We have witnessed in the past 24 years its “Washington Consensus”-leaning neoliberal macroeconomic frameworks that have prioritised placing great emphasis on procedural democracy through elections every five years, rather than answering substantive questions that would seek to tackle the triple threat challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
This trio present their ugly heads to those who lie outside the patronage networks of the ruling party, a network that runs as deep as Extended Public Works Programmes (EPWP) in desolated villages.
Thousands of South Africans have carried the green and gold membership card of the ANC in their lifetimes over a protracted period of time that has spanned many generations, from the first presidency of Pixley Isaka Seme to the election of the former NUM leader, Cyril Ramaphosa, in the Nasrec hallways.
Never in the history of the ANC has its membership card wielded social capital as much as it does in the current epoch of its existence.
Here we have seen it becoming a procurement contract ticket rather than a card that pays allegiance to the ethos and values of great leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, those who fearlessly infused radicalism in the DNA of the then pragmatic ANC of “gentlemen with clean hands”.
They led a delegation of the Youth League that met then ANC president Dr A B Xuma (the first black medical doctor).
They conquered the fear of speaking out of turn by explicitly criticising the ANC’s lack of success in advancing the course of the revolution and influenced the fight against apartheid for the next decades until it was not sustainable for the National Party.
As much as the same bravery is needed in the current membership base of the ruling party to confront the challenges that the country is facing, it is very unlikely to be forthcoming.
The revolutionary message of the ANC that navigated it through the most difficult terrain has been eroded by “tendencies” that would rather prioritise membership buying to emerge in conferences than investing in political work and community outreach programmes.
These would break the dichotomy between the party and its potential voters, and make its message resonate more with the hearts of many ordinary South Africans.
Leading up to the 2019 national elections the ANC will once again hit the streets of SA and vie for votes in one of the most highly contested elections since 1994.
This is against the backdrop of losing major metropolitan municipalities just more than two years ago.
The message of the ANC that will be conveyed through its manifesto will once again need to find relevance in the rank and file of South Africans.
However, the manifesto alone will not be enough to sway many, as an encounter with the local ward councillor, for example, or service at a particular department is more memorable than listening to President Cyril Ramaphosa on the local radio station and it might affect one’s decisionmaking at the polls.
The recent strikes that we have seen in Buffalo City and Stutterheim are an indication that the people are growing impatient and are a microcosm of what is happening in other parts of the country.
The ANC for the first time in post-democratic history is coerced to head to the elections armed with not only sloganeering and its glorious history, but with substantive input on how it will address its failures and direct South Africans to a prosperous future. ● Asemahle Gwala is the Sasco Claude Qavane deputy chairperson and a Nelson Mandela University political science student.