After losing two key metros — Johannesburg and Tshwane — during the 2016 local government elections, the ANC in Gauteng has now set its sights on targeting minority groups and young voters to reverse the decline in its support ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Lebogang Maile, the newly appointed elections co-ordinator and MEC for economic development, told the Mail & Guardian this week: “We have to make sure our campaign is visible in all communities. Black, white, coloured and Indian. In the suburbs and in the townships … everywhere where we find people.
“So we have to consolidate our structures that are there so that they are focused on the task at hand.”
Maile, who lost the contest to become the province’s deputy chairperson to education MEC Panyaza Lesufi last month, was elected head of elections in Gauteng by the provincial executive committee on Monday, replacing disgraced former health MEC Qedani Mahlangu, who quit over the deaths of patients moved from Life Esidimeni facilities.
A former youth league leader in Gauteng, Maile will work closely with national elections head Fikile Mbalula to tailor an elections strategy for the province, which is expected to be the most hotly contested in the national polls.
Broadening the ANC’s reach is a matter Gauteng premier and ANC chairperson David Makhura stressed at the party’s elective conference, where he lamented the ANC’s neglect of coloured people and called for the matter to be rectified.
“This neglect will have far-reaching consequences. Crime and drugs have increased, while the standard of living has dropped, including a decline in educational achievement and advancement among our people in these communities,” Makhura said.
“I call upon the ANC-led government and municipalities to act urgently in correcting the neglect of the coloured communities in Gauteng. Let us change the face of these communities as we are doing with the African townships,” he added.
Maile said the ANC had started attempts to boost its presence and address the concerns of coloured people but had not yet made the inroads it had hoped for.
“Some sections of our coloured community feel that during apartheid they were not white enough and now in democracy they are not black enough.
“Since 2014, if you look at our programmes with the different national groups, we have changed completely. We are yet to make a huge impact in these communities but we have already started,” said Maile.
While the party focuses on broadening its presence it will also have to deal with the Democratic Alliance’s efforts to chip away at its support in the ANC’s stronghold townships. Last year the DA began its own efforts to boost its visibility when it moved former MP Makashule Gana from Parliament to focus on building DA structures in Gauteng townships.
The ANC’s hopes of targeting the youth population will face competition from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which already finds appeal with younger voters and lists Gauteng as its stronghold province. The EFF has said it will target first-time voters and young voters who have no party political affiliation.
ANC leaders, including Gauteng ANC secretary Jacob Khawe, have bemoaned the state of the ANC Youth League and its apparent detachment from the young population the party hopes to attract.
Maile, however, said the ANC saw no threat posed by any opposition party on its youth vote ambitions. But he said the party would need to adopt modern ways of communicating with voters and find relevance in a changing population.
“We are confident of making an impact and that is why we want young people to register in their numbers; we have nothing to be scared about. We believe in our ideas and our policies, so we will face our opponents,” he said.
“We do understand their [young people’s] issues and that is why we have a lot of them in the ANC. To create an impression that we are not among young people is false and misleading,” he added.
Maile said the ANC would also have to repair its bond with voters who had denied the party their vote in the 2016 municipal elections, during which it lost 13.8% of its
support. The party had been affected by e-tolls, corruption and poor service delivery, all of which would have to be dealt with to demonstrate a willingness for the party to self-correct.
He believed the party still had the advantage of experience and a large footprint across Gauteng that would keep it ahead of opposition parties.
The ANC has been projected to secure 58% of the vote in next year’s election, according to a survey by research agency Ipsos.
“We are probably the only party that is visible in all the different parts of this province and all the different wards. We are not arrogant about it. We remain humble about the confidence our people have in our organisation,” Maile said.