Shifting into high gear

The African National Congress is determined to win an overwhelming majority in the 2004 elections - including outright control of all the provinces - to clear the way for it to kick its plans for the social and economic transformation of the country into high gear.

The ANC’s election campaign will be launched in KwaZulu-Natal next week and will be combined with the organisation’s annual January 8 statement, in which its president, Thabo Mbeki, announces the ANC’s priorities for the year.

The ANC is in coalition governments with opposition parties in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. It already holds more than two-thirds majority in Parliament.

ANC spokesperson Steyn Speed says the choice of KwaZulu-Natal to launch the election campaign is deliberate as the organisation wants to win an outright majority in the province.

Presently, the ANC is represented in the fractious KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, along with the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party.
The ANC is already the largest party in the provincial legislature, thanks to the defection of three representatives from opposition parties to its ranks.

At its election campaign launch next week, the ANC is expected to call on voters to celebrate the social and economic improvements made in communities in the 10 years since the formal end of apartheid and to plead for more time to improve the living standards of all South Africans.

They will point to the expansion of the country’s social security programme and the provision of grants to about eight million recipients; the building of more than a million houses; the electrification of hundreds of thousands of homes; the free supply of a basic amount of water to poor communities and the ability to exercise basic democratic rights as part of the organisation’s triumphant message.

The celebration of 10 years of freedom will be a key theme of the ANC election campaign, and the organisation will insist that now more than ever, it is better positioned to deliver on the promises it has made since 1994.

While the party is remaining tight-lipped about the details of its election manifesto and the president’s January 8 address, major announcements are expected to be made on the extension of social security grants. The government has been under pressure to implement a basic income grant.

But, at its conference in December 2002, the ANC called for an expansion of the existing social security programme as a better option to the basic income grant.

Announcements are also expected on the extension of the public works programme that will provide thousands of jobs as well as try to increase skills levels among the unemployed.

A senior party member called it “the real ANC manifesto” uninhibited by past constraints and gestures, like sensitivities towards minorities and nursing the egos of foes such as the IFP. “The overall message is to say that the joint decision-making process is over. People can now judge us as the ANC. From 1994, the ANC has had to take on board the New National Party and the IFP as well as the homeland leaders and it is possible that we might have alienated some of our alliance partners.”

Another senior ANC leader said: “For us the central question is why people should vote for the ANC in these elections. And we have to say it is because it has implemented policies that improved the lives of the people. And therefore we must say that things can only improve from now. The economy is growing, black economic empowerment is on track and the Stellenbosch conference concluded that we must halve unemployment by 2014.”

Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi says the ANC will highlight difficulties mainly where there is some outside explanatory factor for lack of progress.

“For example with unemployment, they will probably say there is unemployment, but it is because big capital has not always come to the party. Where they are not successful, they will say it is because of “objective factors”, Matshiqi said. But the ANC might also try to seize the initiative from the opposition by being first to acknowledge some lack of delivery.

Mbeki has given an indication of a willingness to openly take stock in his 2004 New Year message, where he says: “We still have many people who are unemployed. There are some who do not have access to good nutrition and the necessary amounts of food they require. Other continue to live in shacks without proper housing.

“Many of our people continue to die earlier than they should because of poverty and the impact of the diseases of poverty as well as infectious diseases. To make matters worse, we still face the challenge of high levels of criminal violence, which continues to claim the lives of many poor people.”

The ANC is expected to take full cognisance of the demands of alliance members the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party.

Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said they expected the manifesto to contain concrete proposals on job creation and the reduction of unemployment. “It must be clear how the inequality gap will be closed,” Craven said. Cosatu has also been calling for an outright ANC election victory in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

On the more controversial issues about which the ANC, and Mbeki in particular, has taken flak, Aids and Zimbabwe, analyst Matshiqi said he expected the president to mention them in passing in his address.

“As he always does, Mbeki will mention Aids in passing and refer people to the manifesto. The manifesto is likely to present the comprehensive treatment programme as a major achievement even though they arrived at that decision under much pressure. Zimbabwe will likely be covered by mention of success in our foreign policy in Africa,” Matshiqi said.

In his report to the ANC national conference, last year, ANC Secretary General Kgalema Motlanthe, warned that: “The 2004 election will in all likelihood be the hardest fought election in the ANC’s history. However, the main battle may not be against other parties, but against voter apathy.”

In the meantime, a Human Science Research Council poll released late last month predicts that the ANC will win 67,8% of the national vote in the election. The poll also predicts that the IFP in coalition with the DA will win KwaZulu-Natal, while the ANC would keep control of the Western Cape in alliance with the New National Party.

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane
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