ANC woos black middle class

The ANC is concerned because it has alienated supporters in Gauteng, particularly the black people ‘who become too clever’. (Paul Botes, M&G)

The ANC is concerned because it has alienated supporters in Gauteng, particularly the black people ‘who become too clever’. (Paul Botes, M&G)

Black middle-class Gauteng homes will be one of the main battlegrounds for votes in the local government elections – the ANC is moving purposefully to win back the love from those voters who feel alienated from the party or undecided about voting for it.

The organisers of a new volunteer task team, consisting of academics and professionals, say there is a need for them to spread the news that the ANC has a “good story to tell”.

If the figures are to be believed, those who can spread the love are signing up.

About 1 500 people were drawn to the task team launch in Sandton last Wednesday, roughly 1 000 more than were expected.

It’s the first time the ANC has appealed on this scale to professionals and academics to volunteer their skills.

The crowd broke into song (after a slight, polite hesitation) to give ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, the main speaker at the event, a hero’s welcome.

The chairperson of the professionals and academics volunteers forum, advertising guru Groovin Nchabeleng, said the good turnout was a result of interest, proper planning – which included the ANC’s Gauteng leadership under MEC Paul Mashatile – and the presence of Ramaphosa.

“We already had 1 200 professionals confirmed before we knew that the deputy president was coming,” Nchabeleng said.

“We drew different skills from advertising, lawyers, doctors, bankers, property developers to be part of this volunteer initiative,” adding that he too had volunteered his skills.

Nchabeleng has previously helped the ANC with its elections campaigns.

He was coy about specifics such as how many votes among the middle class the ANC hoped to regain.

But he did say that the black middle class now numbered an estimated 4.7-million, up from the one million 20 years ago. Most of them are in Gauteng.

The plan is to use professionals and academics in door-to-door canvassing and other campaigning, and they were ideal because, unlike list candidates, weren’t in it for the jobs or aspirations to become councillors.

Disagreements with the list have led to squabbles and sometimes violence (recently, in Mpumalanga, someone’s ear was cut off).

Success dependent on the intelligentsia
Black professionals could also serve as an example to voters because their success was largely a result of the ANC’s policies, Nchabeleng said.

The informal arrangement of professional and academic volunteers is part of a bigger plan in the ANC aimed at the middle classes, which is co-ordinated by a team of 20 to 30 people who meet weekly.

This middle strata task team, which has been in existence for more than five years, is headed by Professor David Mosoma, who is also a member of the ANC’s provincial executive council in Gauteng. It was previously headed by former finance MEC Mandla Nkomfe.

Mosoma also heads the professionals and academics task team (the volunteers fall under this group), which is one of three tiers of the middle strata task team.

The other two are the suburban task team, headed by ANC MP Gerhard Koornhof, and the task team for businesspeople, headed by Gauteng economic development MEC Lebogang Maile.

Mosoma said: “These task teams are responsible to really bring the awareness of the ANC in government and what it’s doing; what is the thinking behind the ANC, what challenges exist, and especially also to underscore one cardinal principle – that a nation’s success is dependent on the participation of its intelligentsia.”

He said many ANC-aligned professionals and academics were not participating in their branches, but the party wanted to find a way to draw in their skills.

“Transformation of society is dependent on their participation.
They should not seek permission to participate. If there are difficult challenges, they should raise them. They must be solution-driven and solution-orientated,” he said.

Even though the middle strata task team are talking it down, the ANC has in the past expressed concerns about its drastic loss of votes in Gauteng in recent elections.

It is difficult to compare general and local government elections, but the ANC’s slide from winning 64% of the vote in the 2009 general election to only 53.6% in 2014 was a significant drop.

In 2014, the party won 52.3% of the vote in Johannesburg, compared with 62.4% in 2009. In the 2011 local elections it won 58.5%. In Tshwane it fell from 60% in 2009 to 55.3% in 2011 and 49.3% in 2014.

A recent Ipsos flash poll over the Human Rights Day long weekend of March 21 showed that disaffected former ANC voters might have slipped from the ruling party’s grip.

The survey, done by phoning 500 randomly chosen South Africans older than 18, and which had a slight metropolitan bias, showed that, among the 44% of the ANC voters in the survey, only about half of them said they intended voting for the party again.

Zuma alienated the black middle class
President Jacob Zuma has alienated the black middle classes – professionals and intellectuals in particular – by slamming black people “who become too clever” during his speech to the National House of Traditional Leaders in 2012.

Gauteng ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile has been among Zuma’s harshest critics, especially over the spending of taxpayers’s money on upgrades to the president’s home  in Nkandla.

Mosoma said the party had not picked up on any alienation among the black middle classes because of Zuma’s remarks.

But audience members at the Sandton event did cheer loudly when Ramaphosa promised that issues of “state capture” – including Zuma’s close relationship with the Gupta family – would be addressed by the ANC.

But those at the launch were not an easy crowd, and many there criticised the ANC for sidelining them.

Herbert Msagala, group executive of Transnet Capital Projects, was one of a number of people who spoke about middle-class alienation from the ANC.

“We are branded as middle class, far from the community we serve,” he told the audience.

“We don’t participate in political debates, we say it belongs to politicians. We carry an ANC membership card as opposed to carrying an ANC membership role. What should we be doing in our role?

“We need to have a desk,” he said, and appealed to Ramaphosa to “engage professionals” so that they could participate in helping to form policy.

Stan Itshegetseng from the Black Management Forum was more forthright: “Professionals want to come in and volunteer, but we are not given a platform and space in the ANC,” he said to loud cheers.

Because people saw positions in the ANC as sources of employment, professionals – who already had jobs – were not elected for positions.

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