/ 18 August 2008

The party of the future

Zweli Mkhize. Photo: Lisa Skinner
Zweli Mkhize. Photo: Lisa Skinner

Excluded this week from the launch of the ANC campaign on health and education, it is clear that Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang will be put out to pasture after next year’s elections.

Tshabalala-Msimang also did not attend last week’s international Aids conference in New Mexico where South Africa was represented by Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Nguka.

The ANC’s move to get the party at grassroots to improve health and education is a first shot at Election 2009 and gave some insight into the content of the party’s election campaign and the candidates likely to fill these crucial portfolios in a new Cabinet.

KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Zweli Mkhize chairs the party’s health and education subcommittee, arguably one of its most powerful, and is a front-runner to take over from Tshabalala-Msimang. But he has also been touted as the future finance minister or even deputy president.

Highly regarded when he ran Parliament’s education committee, communist leader Blade Nzimande emerged as the party’s key spokesperson on education.

He launched the campaign with current Education Minister Naledi Pandor, who has announced she will not be available for office next year. A passing of the baton? Perhaps.

Health and education are at the centre of new ANC thinking — when it is not obsessing about the judiciary and the Scorpions.

The ANC’s first major post-Polokwane policy campaign launches in Kliptown on Friday.

The venue, synonymous with the Freedom Charter, is symbolic — the ANC wants to wrest the party from intellectuals and technocrats and return it to ”the people”.

It is rebuilding its health and education desks and aims to make local government accountable to them. Its campaign material tells communities how to make officials, teachers, hospital staff and the like more responsive.

On health, for example, it includes details of how local leaders should ” … ensure adequacy of appropriate supplies such as medicines, improving the quality of service, including dealing with long queues, proper treatment of patients and the general cleanliness of facilities”.

The education campaign is based on Zuma’s January 8 statement, which urged students and teachers to be at school on time and be involved.

Using his pep talk, it sets out a number of responsibilities to be met by local officials, teachers, students and parents.

Its campaign documents tout the theme of community responsibility — a sea-change from its usual mantra of rights and delivery to communities. This is likely to be a feature of its election campaign. In addition, it is clear that there will be no major policy overhauls when a new ANC government takes over in 2009.

”We are building on existing programmes and the achievements of the ANC; we are refining rather than overhauling,” said Mkhize this week.

But he added that the ANC was analysing the weaknesses of government and its policies and would make changes once in office.

At Polokwane, calls for universal free education were numerous and loud. ”Clearly, we must reach a point where South Africa has free schooling,” Pandor said this week, adding that this would be phased in over the medium term. Other highlights of the party’s campaign are likely to be a national health insurance plan and a national old-age pension fund.

The party’s Healthy Lifestyles Campaign will encourage ANC members not to smoke and to cut down drastically on drinking.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s call to South Africans’ needing to grow their own food has clearly found favour in the party.

As part of its plan for healthy lifestyles, the party is prodding those members with gardens to learn a new slogan and associated skill. It is ”One home, one garden” — which sure beats ”One judge, one bullet”.