Is the ANC really telling us to 'step up for our hustle'?

The ANC's 'step up for your hustle' election campaign posters countrywide, such as this one seen in Braamfontein, provoke some serious questions. (Luke Hutchinson)

The ANC's 'step up for your hustle' election campaign posters countrywide, such as this one seen in Braamfontein, provoke some serious questions. (Luke Hutchinson)

The ANC makes it too easy for its critics sometimes. 

I know what the Songezo Mjongiles of this world say: how we, the neo-liberal, fascist what-what media, have always had it in for the ruling party, and God help the planning minister who says otherwise.

And so I tried to keep quiet as long as I could about their latest boo-boo. But the fact is that it is there for everyone to see, on posters and billboards across the country. 

In the party's economic heartland of Johannesburg, it hits you as you curve up on the Queen Elizabeth bridge, the less attractive cousin of the Nelson Mandela bridge that connects the CBD with the rest of the city. Emblazoned across building fronts as you cross the bridge are large versions of the party's "step up" campaign, clearly designed to reach that elusive young voting market everyone and Julius Malema are after. 

You'll find the posters everywhere across the country, particularly on street poles.
It features a series of young South Africans whose black and white head shots are set against the ANC's distinctive yellow along with a slogan beginning with the phrase: "Step up". 

A bald woman tells you to step up for your individuality. One with a loose afro tells you to step up for your diversity. Another in a Muslim head scarf tells you to step up for your beliefs. So far, so typecast. Then it happens. Forget the white guy in a collared shirt telling you to step up for your views, my eyes are always riveted by the black guy in a hoodie telling me to "step up for your hustle".

Really, ANC?

I don't know about you, but everything I know about hustling I learned from Miami rapper Rick Ross. In his 2006 song Hustlin', Ross talks about the cocaine traffic network built up by his namesake, notorious convicted drug trafficker "Freeway" Rick Ross. The song references a number of other well-known drug dealers for good measure around its distinctive chorus featuring the line: "Every day I'm hustlin'."

Think that's just one man's opinion about the term? The Oxford English dictionary has the traditional definition of hustle as to "push roughly" or "jostle". It also includes a secondary informal definition: to "obtain illicitly or by forceful action".

No wonder the music group LMFAO changed the lyric to "Every day I'm shufflin'" when they incorporated Ross's line into their 2011 song Party Rock Anthem

The ANC, however, opted to use a dubious term associated with young South Africans: the very group every investor is worried about as their employment levels plummet and their drop-out rates from tertiary education rises. When we talk about a ticking bomb of discontent among this group, we're not kidding

They're also the group that are tempted by a glamorous hip-hop culture that often tells them hard work and toeing the line is for pussies, and making it big means breaking the rules. And they are the same group that must look to an increasingly morally impoverished political leadership for influence. 

What exactly does "stepping up for your hustle" mean in this context? We have a president who is increasingly defined by the scandal surrounding the use of up to R206-million of public funds on "security upgrades" at his private residence, with such outrageous items as what appears to be a swimming pool recast as a fire-fighting tool to justify its existence on a security budget. Is this an example of hustling? Twisting the truth, cheating the system and trampling those at the bottom to come out on top?

It's no secret that increasingly the ANC, once a strong liberation movement, is being dragged down by opportunists whose primary pursuit of power in the party is to access government positions, and thus illicit self-enrichment opportunities. Of course, not all leaders in the party are like this, but there are too many who end up being tempted that way. 

There is also the worrying issue of racial type-casting in the campaign. The use of identity in all the posters has some connection to the slogan, the most obvious of which is the Muslim woman and the theme of belief. The choice of a young black man in a hoodie for the theme of hustling is then no coincidence, and is a little stomach-churning. Is this what our government thinks young black men in our country aspire to? Hacking their way through life and taking short-cuts at best, or breaking the law at worst? And are they actually encouraging that behaviour?

Because something tells me that they're hardly using the original definition of that word. Because stepping up to push others out the way is nearly as bad.

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay

Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.  Read more from Verashni Pillay

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