Did Zuma’s speech do the trick?

South African President Jacob Zuma greets supporters at a rally to commemorate the 105th birthday of his ruling African National Congress (ANC), in Soweto, South Africa, January 8, 2017. REUTERS/James Oatway
South African President Jacob Zuma greets supporters at a rally to commemorate the 105th birthday of his ruling African National Congress (ANC), in Soweto, South Africa, January 8, 2017. REUTERS/James Oatway

In a defining moment in the history of the ANC where it is facing its most difficult challenges since the dawn of democracy‚ President Jacob Zuma did little to help the party reignite its passion‚ unite its people and grow its support.

On a rainy day‚ thousands of ANC members packed the Orlando Stadium on Sunday to celebrate 105 years of the party’s existence in song and dance‚ expecting the leadership to set the tone for what should be an eventful 2017.

The ruling party will host its policy conference in June and later elect its new leadership at another conference in December.

For over a week‚ the entire leadership of the ANC crisscrossed the Gauteng province meeting its members and garnering support for its celebration.

The crowd did pitch but — as one analyst described it – it was “a missed opportunity”.

The January 8 statement is prepared by the leadership of the ANC to set the tone for the ruling party in the year ahead‚ which has been a tradition since 1972.

This time the ANC used the celebration to mark 100 years of Oliver Tambo‚ the party’s longest serving president.

Long before Zuma’s speech‚ news was already out that the ANC Women’s League will support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the next president of the party and country‚ a move that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe described as disarming the leadership in its effort to instil discipline.

In his speech‚ Zuma admitted that divisions within the party were becoming costly.

“The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs. Our own research and interactions with members of the ANC demonstrate clearly that the people abhor the apparent preoccupation with personal gain. People are clear: their main priorities are jobs‚ fighting crime and corruption. Our task is therefore to grow the economy‚ create jobs and rigorously fight crime and corruption‚” he said.

Zuma also said that lobby group should not undermine ANC branches in electing new leaders.

“Today‚ our Movement faces serious challenges to its unity. Divisive tendencies such as factionalism‚ gate keeping and manipulation of internal processes exist at all levels of the ANC‚ the ANC Leagues‚ the Alliance and the Mass Democratic Movement. These tendencies inhibit our ability to give decisive leadership to society‚” he said.

But political analyst Susan Booysen described the speech as missed opportunity for the ANC.

“It was a speech that did not match the requirements of the time. It is a moment in the ANC history which really required the content to go an extra mile‚ but it did not. It fell short of the first step. We are beyond the point where supporters of the ANC and potential supporters of the ANC are happy to hear how much the ANC is against corruption and that the party will reconnect with its followers…All of that has been said and done before. This is the moment in ANC’s history where the ANC and its president could have and should have turned things around. There was no evidence of that happening.”

Booysen said Zuma was not the man to talk about the issue of slates.

“He was saying what should be said but it is the wrong person at the wrong time. He is a slate person…The ANC is still saturated with factional politics. There is no non-factional future for the ANC…The ANC is submerged in factionalism. There is no way out…It is a total fictional narrative to say there must not be slate politics. It is under his nose and he knows all of it.”

Zuma also addressed the issue of land‚ an area where the ruling party has been open about its failures.

“We repeat that it is our duty to return the land to the people. The Constitution allows for the expropriation of land for a public purpose and in the public interest. This year‚ we shall begin to utilise the Expropriation of Land Act to pursue land reform and land redistribution‚ with greater speed and urgency‚ following the prescripts of our Constitution.”

While the use of the word ‘speed’ sounded exciting‚ it is not the first time the ruling party has committed itself to this‚ political analyst Dirk Kotze commented.

“It was very much like the statements made in the past. The fact that we are now approaching the ANC’s policy conference and then the elective one‚ this is the item that is almost mandatory. In the past two policy conferences it was a big issue. It always gets discussed at these conferences but the question is the follow-up [action] in implementation by government‚” said Kotze.

He added that the speech attempted to deal with divisions but failed to give specifics on how these could be dealt with ahead of the elective conference in December.

“That does not appear in the speech. It is almost that they [leadership] are in denial that this is going to happen. I think that in the next number of months‚ this will actually dominate the ANC’s internal relations.”

Kotze warned that the divisions within the ANC and its alliance partners were too deep to be fixed by just one speech.

“One speech cannot deliver that. What needs to be done is that they [NEC] must lead by example. What is happening in the national leadership has to factor down to the levels of the leagues… One day’s speech is not going to make a difference. We have heard too many speeches like this one before. What is needed is that the leadership‚ including the top six‚ the ANC and members of the alliance must start first and that will factor down to other structures. One call by the president of the ANC will not make a difference.”


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