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Wits students grill Mantashe over voting ANC

Victoria John

"Uncle Gweezy" has been asked why SA should vote ANC by students who raised Nkandla, access to electricity and education as concerns with government.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, or "Uncle Gweezy" as he is known by some, charmed University of Witwatersrand students with jokes and personal anecdotes when they came to watch him tell the ANC's good story on Sunday. He addressed students' questions about the Nkandla controversy, National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and criticisms of President Jacob Zuma's leadership, leaving some students unconvinced of the ANC's promises and others definite ANC voters.

"The success of the movement depends on the success of generating … [the intelligentsia]," he told a group of about 100 students at Esselen residence in Hillbrow.

There was a strong "love" between the ANC movement and South Africa's intelligentsia and the students were part of that, he said. "That's why you are important."

South Africans should vote ANC because children have the option of going to no-fee schools where they get one meal provided for them every school day, because the matric pass rate was rising, and because more pupils from township and rural schools were increasingly doing better in the national senior certificate exams, he said. Young people could go to university and apply to get a NSFAS loan, and since the ANC was in power there was a growth of five-million people in jobs.

When young people told him that they dropped out of school because they "don't have money", he said he asked them "why drop out", and reminded them of what the ANC did to help them acquire an education and good jobs.

"Your socio-economic status should never determine your development," he said.

"I'm sure some of you are on NSFAS," he said. The students laughed. "All of us are," one shouted.

'Uncle Gweezy'
Some students wore yellow ANC T-shirts, while others had black South African Students Congress (Sasco) T-shirts. They wore sneakers, slippers and slipslops, and some of them called him "Uncle Gweezy" when they stood up to ask a question.

"One of the ANC's [future] top six leaders will come from this university," he said, to cheering and clapping.

The students were quiet and attentive when he told them that two of the ANC's proudest achievements were providing electricity and running water to rural villages.

"When I passed matric I didn't even dream of having electricity ... Just drive to a village like Lusikisiki [in the Eastern Cape] and [you will see] it is bright at night."

He said a cousin who lived in a rural area once asked him what the ANC achieved, and Mantashe replied by standing up and flicking on a light switch, to which the students laughed and whistled.

The same cousin asked why, then, the ANC was still being criticised. Mantashe replied that this was because it was taking action and doing something.

"A moth comes to the light … and a dog barks at a moving car," Mantashe said. "A dog doesn't bark at a car [that isn't moving] ... You are not gambling when you vote ANC… development [under the ANC's rule] is an irrefutable argument… you can't argue with that."

Tweet about it
After he spoke, ANC Youth League national task team member Shaka Sisulu, who chaired the meeting, asked students to "take out your NSFAS phones" and tweet about the gathering using the Uncle Gweezy hashtag.

A student stood up and told Mantashe that people he knows speak about "how they love the ANC but they say: 'Zuma, a-a-ah this guy'".

Mantashe said Zuma was not an option, he was the president.

"He can't join the ANC, go into exile, [come back] and be deputy secretary general, deputy president [then when he is] president people say he is not the right man," he said. "There is no one who knows the ANC like he does."

If he was removed as president because of the Nkandla controversy, Mantashe said, "we will never have a president".

The public protector's report and the inter-ministerial report about Nkandla were very similar, he said.

"Thuli Madonsela said state money was not used … the reports only differed when it came to the kraal, the chicken run, the visitor's centre, the pool … "

The Special Investigating Unit is investigating the controversy, he told the gathering.

'I will tell Blade to come here'
Students raised concerns over hygiene problems arising from a dilapidated building called Florence next door to the residence whose sewerage ran down the road below the residence room windows. Because of the stagnant water that pooled outside the building, "there are 13 mosquitoes in my room [in Esselen residence] right now", one student stood up and said.

Mantashe promised to raise the issue with Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. "I will tell Blade to come here," he said.

Thabang Che Ntshanana told the Mail & Guardian that campaigning at universities was important because the demographic of registered voters was mostly young people.

"If political parties don't come talk to us they won't win," he said.

The promises made during electioneering by the ANC was "an advert", third year bachelor of education student, Dion Mkhonza, said. But it was an advert students were "glued to", another third year bachelor of education student, Agnes Mkhonza said.

"The question is, what is the product like," Mkhonza said.

Mkhonza said he would choose who he would vote for when he got to the voting booth. Ntshanana said he would definitely be voting ANC.

Main issues facing SA's youth
Unequal and low-quality education was the main problem facing today's youth, students who spoke to the Mail & Guardian said.

"It's NSFAS problems and residence problems that are the main ones," Mkhonza said. "There is a big budget for higher and basic education but it is not used properly."

In January, Sasco called for a nationwide student protest over a shortage of NSFAS funds.

Nokulunga Sithole, a third year LLB student, said the ANC "has nothing to pat itself on the back for when it comes to basic education".

"Some people who come to Wits from the rural areas can't even construct one sentence in English."

'What will you give my children?'
The group of five students said police brutality, teenage pregnancy, and "Zuma being allowed to spend exorbitant amounts of money on his house" were other concerns that they felt the ANC did not adequately address during its rule.

Sithole lives in Alexandra township. "Mantashe spoke about people having electricity and water but where I live there are still so many people living in shacks without electricity and without water". She would not vote ANC.

Sithole walked with the M&G to the entrance of Florence. The smell of the sewerage running down the street was strong. Trash filled the alley below its windows and outside its doors.

"Students get mugged on this street and the muggers run into Florence … you don't go inside because if you go in, you won't come out," she said. "This affects our learning and our learning is the ANC's problem. They have the power to tell the people who work for the City of Johannesburg to do something about this problem."

Back at her residence she said she resented being told that because she was black she had to vote ANC.

"[South Africans] need to hear more than 'we got you out of apartheid'," she said. "I want to know, if I leave, what will you give my children?"


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