To win the election the African National Congress ruthlessly used its greatest competitive advantage over the other political parties in this election — massive, organised membership.
ANC members in every ward were mobilised to go to each house, street and block in their communities. “If you were given 39 houses to attend, you were expected to account and others tested your report-back. That meant we covered every household,” said an ANC election official.
And the partyâ€™s controversial step of not announcing its candidates for the premier post in the provinces worked among the rank and file. “It ensured that everyone knew that their political futures were not secure,” the official said. “The move prevented the old cliques from dividing the organisation by lobbying for their favourite candidates.
“It meant there were no super-comrades. We were all equal and had to do the same amount of work to ensure an ANC victory. It meant you would be rewarded for the amount of work you put into the campaign.”
The benefits of incumbency helped, too. The party has pumped up delivery in the past 18 months, getting its councillors into their constituencies to deal with pressing problems. The 80 000 people the ANC got to its final election event, the Siyanqoba (Victory) rally at the FNB stadium outside Soweto, demonstrated the wiliness of the organisationâ€™s campaign.
ANC Gauteng spokesperson Hope Papo said all those who attended the rally had already sent in their RSVPs long before the day. “When we started our door-to-door campaigning, we asked people to fill in street sheets. We asked how many people in the household were registered and whether they would be interested in attending our last rally. We took down the names and addresses of those who were interested. So by last week, we had 100 000 confirmations.”
The promise of a party was not part of the attraction. “We stressed the importance of discipline,” Papo stressed. “Alcohol was not allowed and we told them there would be no free food parcels. People were given T-shirts as they got on to the buses.” Musical entertainment, now de rigueuer at rallies, was not needed to fill the stadium but to spice up the programme.
“The mobilisation for the rally was around the president, not the entertainment. But sometimes you have to give people a whole package, and acknowledge that politics can also be fun. Half of the people who were at the stadium were young people and they love entertainment,” Papo said.
An ANC official said the party had to turn down all sorts of celebrities such as beauty queens, top soccer teams and business people eyeing future government tenders.
The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) also threw its weight behind the organisation, despite tensions between the alliance partners, mainly over the governmentâ€™s economic policies.
The ANC has a membership of about 425 000, according to the organisation. In contrast, Cosatu has 1,2-million members and is the largest mass-based organisation in the country.
“Ten years after liberation, we havenâ€™t got to that moment of political disaffection [from the ANC] among the working class that analysts have predicted,” said Professor Sakhela Buhlungu of the sociology department at Wits University and the leading researcher on a survey of Cosatu membersâ€™ political attitudes.
“Notwithstanding the fact that we have a government that is committed to the liberalisation of the economy, workers still are in support.”
The survey, released last week, revealed that 66% of workers still believe the federationâ€™s alliance with the ANC is the “best way of safeguarding worker interest in Parliament”. Nearly the same number said the alliance should continue beyond 2004. Only 18% said Cosatu should not be aligned with any political party and 6% said workers should form their own party.
“The alliance is unlikely to break up. There is no doubt in my mind that Cosatu is more dependent on the ANC then it has ever been,” said Buhlungu.
“The government has developed a carrot-and-stick strategy. The carrot is that there has been a degree of service delivery for the working class in general and the labour law dispensation is still intact. The stick is that the government is going ahead with its liberalisation policies.
“In my view, Cosatu is going to become less and less significant as the core of full-time workers in the economy shrinks and the federation battles to tap into the informal economy,” he added.
Cosatu president Willie Madisha says that an ANC victory is essential to stabilise the immense political and developmental pressures that still exist as a result of the high levels of poverty in South Africa. “Any threat to an ANC victory is a threat to political stability and the creation of legitimate political institutions.”
“The ANC has admitted that it has not covered everything it ought to have and that, to us, is a significant enough indication that there will be a difference to the peopleâ€™s lives after the elections,” he added. Some may call him gullible, but what is clear from this campaign is that the alliance may hobble, but it holds.
The door-to-door work of the ANC president Thabo Mbeki was the focus of the organisationâ€™s national campaign.
His strategic forays into white areas were designed to win the party support outside its normal strongholds.
Mbekiâ€™s house-to-house campaign among minorities is believed to have made a huge difference among people who previously regarded him — and the ANC — with some suspicion. For example, about 70 whites who live in the affluent Kempton Park townhouse complex that Mbeki visited last week have subsequently asked for ANC T-shirts. The organisation is considering opening a branch there, says Ekurhuleni regional executive official Panyaza Lesufi.
At the same time, the ANC moved to counter the organisationâ€™s greatest weakness — the slow rate of jobs and delivery.
Wherever he went, Mbeki took notes and instructed his officials to deal with the complaints that make ordinary peopleâ€™s lives unbearable: most homes complained about electricity and water cut-offs, followed by jobs.
For the ruling party, this may mean a rigorous examination of its three-year-old pledge to provide a basic amount of electricity and water to poor households. The system is not working, though the ANCâ€™s supporters have proved to be a hardy lot.
What the hustings have revealed is that the bulk of the poor masses will stay with a party that has the highest chance of delivering — and will not vote strategically to strengthen the opposition.
The Eastern Cape has some of the poorest districts in the country and an unemployment rate of 55%, with vast rural areas that have not received basic services like water and sanitation.
ANC supporters came out in their masses to listen to Mbeki when he visited poor communities in the province last week.
Acknowledging the high levels of poverty and unemployment, Mbeki still managed to leave a stream of supporters believing the ANC will deliver in the future.
Lubabalo Tanta, a young, unemployed 27-year-old from King Williams Town, believes Mbeki when he promises job creation. “His policies are good for the country. I know why I donâ€™t have a job, it is not his fault, but because we have no businesses here,” say Tanta.
Most supporters agree that their situation is far better now than it was 10 years ago. “We never had the child grant or pensions,” said Cynthia Mosana, a grandmother of six living in the Mangati Bonweni location outside Idutywa. Mosana has been waiting for a toilet for the past 10 years but got her husband to build a zinc structure over a hole in the meantime.
“The other villages are getting toilets and it will be our turn soon.” But for Mosana, failure by the ANC government to deliver these services will not influence her vote. “The government is trying, but the problem lies with the officials [in the local municipality], they are corrupt. The national government is good but it is the people at the municipality that are not doing their jobs,” she says.
But some supporters are seemingly only “sticking with the devil they know”.
A teacher at the Funeka school in Ndevana village said the government has made progress but still the schools have no fences and books are scarce. “But I have a fear of voting for other parties because I donâ€™t know what they will do for me.” However, he wants the truth from the ANC. “If education is free then they must say so but if it is not, then they must not lie.”
Nkosana Duna, a struggling farmer near Idutywa, believes people should stop blaming the government and start working for themselves. “There is this entitlement that the government must do everything. We must work and create projects — then the government can support us.”
Having disposed of campaigning, the ANC is now focusing on a big celebration party in Sandton two days after the elections — a venue that speaks volumes.