There is increasing anxiety and anger among top ANC leaders over the party’s faltering municipal election campaign.
Six senior provincial and national officials told the Mail & Guardian the campaign was being hobbled by infighting ahead of the party’s 2012 elective conference, sidelining a top election strategist, Fikile Mbalula. The poor performance of local government minister Sicelo Shiceka and depleted coffers were also cited.
The leaders pointed to the poor visibility of the ANC’s election campaign in its own constituencies. The Democratic Alliance’s posters, in particular, were more dominant than the ANC’s in these areas and the opposition party was beginning to make significant inroads there, they said.
Mbalula, the minister of sports and recreation, was a key driver of the 2009 national election campaign. But the ANC’s top six officials excluded him from this year’s campaign, apparently afraid that he might gain an unfair advantage in his campaign to become ANC secretary general next year.
ANC national executive committee members Jessie Duarte, Ngoako Ramatlhodi and Nomvula Mokonyane are running the show. The M&G understands several leaders from different provinces have complained to Luthuli House about Mbalula’s exclusion.
The party’s election posters had gone up too late and the campaign was being clouded by disagreements about nominated candidates, some leaders said. But ANC spokesperson Brian Sokutu said the party’s campaign was still unfolding. “As part of our strategy, we started with billboards because they are more visible [and complement] our focus [to sell] the ANC brand, with the face being that of President Jacob Zuma.”
The idea was to encourage a focus on the party rather than individuals, he said. “We would rather have the face of the president [than individual faces all over].
“Posters with different pictures of individual candidates in different locations will form part of our second phase of the campaign,” said Sokutu. However, the strategy of using national party leaders to spearhead the election campaign was likely to fail, a senior ANC provincial leader said. “Even if a national leader can scream his lungs out, it will not work. This is more about local dynamics.”
The leader said some candidates were unpopular and communities did not want them. Provincial leaders changed some of the candidate lists in what the ANC said were moves to balance gender and demographic representation.
Corruption was the main complaint the party heard from voters, said Sandi Sijake, president of the ANC’s Veterans’ League. “The problem is with ourselves in the ANC,” Sijake said. During the provincial ANC elections “you heard the names of [ANC Western Cape chairman] Marius Fransman or [former chairperson] Mcebisi Skwatsha” and “the name of the ANC was nowhere”.
Recent troubles with election lists were also a source of difficulty. “Now there is also much unhappiness about candidates and we have to ask people to forget about that and focus on elections. It is not easy,” Sijake said.
Mbalula received accolades for running the ANC’s successful campaign in 2009 when it was under threat from the then fledgling breakaway party, Congress of the People. The ANC Youth League is backing Mbalula to challenge Gwede Mantashe for the position of secretary general of the ANC in 2012.
An ANC insider close to Mbalula told the M&G this week that Duarte, who is now the ANC’s national elections coordinator, decided to switch from the “razzmatazz” election campaign Mbalula spearheaded.
“Her reasoning for this was that the party needed to cut costs,” the insider said. “But the reality of the matter is that people do not want Mbalula to be actively involved in the ANC election campaign because he is a threat to their political career. “If this campaign was being driven by Mbalula, we would be far by now.”
Mantashe told the M&G that Mbalula was not head of elections in 2009 but of organising and campaigning, which is what he still was. “Jessie is coordinating the elections now,” Mantashe said.
Duarte said:” I am not the head of elections. It is advocate Ramatlhodi. The campaign we are conducting was presented to the NEC and supported by it.” Internal party disputes were not the only problem — a poor marketing strategy was also to blame, said one provincial leader.
The ANC poster that carried a message without any picture was “boring” and “not appealing”, the leader said. The lettering was “congested” and the message too long.
“The old posters were written in bold letters and the message was simple and straight to the point,” the leader said. But provincial leaders did not have a say in the design of election posters, the leader said. “We just collect them and hang them on to poles.”
Finances also accounted for differences between this year’s election campaign and that in 2009. In 2009 people were willing to sponsor the ANC’s campaign, but the party’s purse was half full this year.
An ANC strategist referred to the failure of Shiceka’s turnaround strategy — it had raised unrealistic expectations but delivered nothing. The strategy was supposed to revitalise weak municipalities in the North West and Eastern Cape from 2010 but nothing had happened.
“The success in revitalising those municipalities was supposed to be what the ANC would sell to the electorate in these elections. But while the vision was there, there was no detail on how it would be implemented.”
Other ANC activists have also questioned whether it was strategic for Zuma to declare 2011 the year of job creation instead of the year of service delivery because the elections were being fought over billing, refuse collection, potholes, water and sanitation, electricity and other aspects of local service delivery.
Bloopers: Let us count the ways
- Ups and downs of election posters: In Mooiplaas outside East London 19 people were arrested for pulling down posters featuring President Jacob Zuma’s face, while many other areas have no posters to speak of. But one place with no lack of ANC regalia is OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, where Zuma grins at every traveller as he or she checks in. Problem is, people who can afford to fly aren’t exactly the ANC’s core supporters, are they?
- Cancelling promises to pitch: Three last-minute cancellations by Zuma left voters all dressed up with nowhere to go. Two weeks ago he was due to touch base in the Free State but at the last minute he sent a message — his plane could not take off due to bad weather. Then, again at the last minute, he cancelled a visit to a ward in Port Elizabeth — which his aides say was due to communication problems. But, given that community members were waiting for him with stones and tyres ready to be lit, it was probably a wise choice. Last week it was a family funeral that kept him away from his Northern Cape supporters. Even Zuma’s not-so-best-friend, Youth League president Julius Malema, followed suit. His well-publicised visit to Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi came to nought — Malema never pitched. His equality court case kept him busy, he said. Was his case on the roll on a Saturday?
- Election day or independence day?: More independent candidates are standing this time than ever before. Councillors who failed to make the ANC cut registered themselves as independent candidates, pitting themselves against their erstwhile political home. And the problem with fighting a homeboy — or girl — is that he or she knows all your tricks.
- Frustration before education: Teaching was suspended in six schools in Flagstaff in the Eastern Cape this week — the teachers were unhappy with the ward candidate chosen for the area and therefore suspended schooling for at least one day this week.
- Manifesto-come-lately: Although the ANC manifesto launches kicked off in February in Rustenburg organisers seem to have failed to let the regions know that it is now all systems go. In one of the ANC’s most important areas of contestation — Johannesburg — the manifesto was launched this week, in the Park Hyatt in Rosebank, nogal. The comrades probably did not want to dirty their fancy cars, which makes the valet parking at a five-star hotel the best option.
- “Get out of jail free” card stolen: The Democratic Alliance’s manifesto launch in Kliptown, where the ANC’s founding document, the Freedom Charter, was adopted, was bad enough. But now the DA has hijacked the Nelson Mandela brand. Party leader Helen Zille has started saying recently that the DA, not the ANC, is living up to the ideals of Nelson Mandela, stealing the ANC’s last resort — “No matter how mad you are at the ANC, vote for Madiba.” Now that is gone too.