manifestos clash

LIVING IN HOPE: Cope supporters at the party's rally in Port Elizabeth at the weekend where it announced its elections maifesto.  24.01/2009. Pic. Beverley Darlow.  © Unknown.
LIVING IN HOPE: Cope supporters at the party's rally in Port Elizabeth at the weekend where it announced its elections maifesto. 24.01/2009. Pic. Beverley Darlow. © Unknown.

Anna Majavu

Anna Majavu

With the skyrocketing prices of food and basic services, the scarcity of jobs and high crime rate weighing heavily on many minds, does the Congress of the People's election manifesto measure up?

After the launch of their manifesto in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, Human Sciences Research Council political analyst Suren Pillay said it was "the statement of a party that intends to govern, not be in the opposition".

But until now, Cope has gained much of its support from people who were unhappy with ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema's "disrespectful" attitude, but their ever-changing stance on affirmative action and broad-based black economic empowerment has already lost them some votes.

A comparison of the Cope and ANC election manifestos reveals that on food security, the ANC says it will "distribute basic foods at affordable prices to poor households and communities".

Cosatu has long argued for cheaper food on the basis that thousands of South Africans suffer from malnutrition because they cannot afford basic foodstuffs, while retail companies' profits shoot up and their directors are paid salaries upwards of R20 million a year. If the ANC is serious about providing affordable food to millions of poor people, it would mean the establishment of a state-owned non-profit food company, which would be a welcome move.

Cope, on the other hand, promises to "promote food security" but does not mention discount food for the poor. Like the ANC, it says it will ensure that land is used productively.

The ANC promises support for small farmers, and says it will set up processing plants for agricultural produce in rural areas. Cope says much the same, promising to supply small farmers with seeds, fertilisers and mentor them to market their produce.

Cope has avoided making job creation promises that come with a clear price tag. It says "where retrenchments become unavoidable it will activate social plans to address the needs of affected workers". Cope also plans to "encourage the creation of jobs near where people live to help reduce transport costs".

The ANC has promised to create public sector jobs linked to "meeting the social needs of home-based care, crèches, school cleaning and renovation, community gardens, removal of alien vegetation, tree planting and school feeding".

The ANC also has a detailed plan to combat "exploitation of workers", promising to address the problem of labour broking and prohibit certain abusive practices, while Cope says companies who intend to retrench workers must abide by labour laws.

It would have been nice for both parties to scrap the Thabo Mbeki-led government's plans to spend R200 million on new nuclear power stations, which will benefit very few.

Cope's manifesto wins the day here, promising to introduce "natural gas, solar, wind, hydro and sea as sources of cleaner power generation".

Cope is sure to attract voters with its promise to bring back the Scorpions. The ANC's calls for the revival of street committees have been treated with suspicion. But both parties are relying on more police and crime intelligence to win the fight against crime.

A major divergence comes with Cope's proposal to effectively ban public sector unions from affiliating to any political party. This would leave 500000 Cosatu members out in the cold and is unlikely to win the support of organised workers. It could also be unconstitutional as it violates the right to freedom of association.

The parties' plans to fight corruption are seen as another way to reel in the voters.

Cope has come up with a blueprint to ensure that its leaders are "honest servants of the people", promising that its candidates will have paid their taxes and will be compelled to report back to their constituencies.

Cope will also declare the sources of their funding before election day, which the ANC has refused to do.

Like the ANC, Cope wants more "transparency" around who receives government tenders. Both parties have vowed to "depoliticise" the public service, with the ANC arguing that former high-ranking ANC leaders who now lead Cope politicised public service appointments.

On education, the ANC plans to move towards free tertiary education for everyone. Cope instead focuses on programmes to "upgrade especially the first-year African students", and is likely to steer poor students towards the further education and training (FET) colleges.

The ANC has also promised to gradually extend the child support grant to children between the ages of 15 to 18, while Cope will instead look for ways in which adults receiving grants can be given work opportunities.