The ANC in the Western Cape has launched its not-so-secret weapon in the form of President Cyril Ramaphosa to try to regain the province.
This week he took to the campaign trail in the province for the first time since announcing that general elections will be held on May 8.
This follows the announcement by the party in the Western Cape that it won’t be putting up a premier candidate to campaign and that the ANC president will be the face of its drive.
All other political parties squaring up for this regional battle have put forward candidates with strong personal and political ties. The Democratic Alliance is punting current community safety MEC Alan Winde, the Freedom Front Plus will be fronted by political veteran Peter Marais, and the newly formed Good party is putting up former Cape Town mayor and party leader Patricia de Lille.
De Lille is so familiar with particularly Cape Town voters that her party’s election poster calls simply for a vote for “Aunty Pat”.
And it’s her entry into the race for the province that excites the ANC, which is currently in opposition.
The party is not betting on winning the Western Cape outright but is hoping De Lille can divide the ruling DA’s support base and bring it below 50%. Then all bets will be off when parties have to cobble together a coalition government.
During a recent press conference, ANC provincial elections head and former premier Ebrahim Rasool said De Lille was not an enemy of the ANC.
“Patricia de Lille is not a threat to the ANC. She’s a threat to the DA; whatever she does subtracts from the DA for us. That is good news. She’s a significant player in the Western Cape,” Rasool said.
Ramaphosa kicked off his Cape Town election campaign by meeting provincial leaders in Khayelitsha, before doing a walkabout through the TR informal settlement in the area.
Residents lamented poor services and asked the president for decent housing and proper sanitation.
Later the president attended a listening session with what the ANC calls the “middle strata” — business people, professionals, youths and activists. He fielded a range of questions, which included issues about gentrification, urban spatial planning, gangsterism, substance abuse and jobs.
ANC supporters (David Harrison)
The president responded succinctly, often turning on his renowned charm. Attendees laughed at his jokes and applauded his firm stance on contentious subjects.
But it was a predominantly ANC-sympathetic crowd. Some had travelled from as far as Worcester and the Langeberg municipality, more than 200km away. Many would not have needed an invitation to be there.
Ramaphosa’s key message to Western Cape voters is that the past nine years under former president Jacob Zuma have been a mistake and that the culture of accountability is returning to the ANC.
“This culture was slipping through our fingers but, in this new period we are in, it is about that. And it is also about increasing our service delivery and about putting our people first. It’s about addressing the needs of ordinary South Africans,” he said.
Ramaphosa also promised strong action against those implicated in state capture and a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.
“We want to see state capture leading to consequences. Where there has been wrongdoing, there must be consequences. And we must become a country where the rule of law becomes the order of the day,” he said. “That if we take positions of leadership, we should know that we are taking these positions not to line our pockets, not for self-gain, but to become servants of our people.”
Clean government is an election trump card for the DA. The party in government in the Western Cape has documented proof, from the auditor general’s office, of clean financial audits.
It is also campaigning on a ticket of better policing. Winde says he would establish a provincial policing unit to fight gangsterism and drug trafficking.
The ANC national executive committee has deployed Police Minister Bheki Cele to be the party’s convener in the Western Cape.
The police’s antigang unit has also had some success in reacting to gang violence since its launch in November last year and Cele has held regular meetings with local organisations in areas such as Bonteheuwel and Bishop Lavis.
During the question-and-answer session, Ramaphosa said the effort to tackle drugs and violent crime in the province would be intensified.
“The issue of substance abuse is a serious one and it is linked to gangs,” he said. “The antigang unit has been welcomed here in the Western Cape and that unit is also focusing on matters of substance abuse. So now we’re beginning to focus more and more on this issue.”
It won’t be Ramaphosa’s last visit to the Western Cape. But the president has many more kilometres to traverse because he also leads the ANC’s campaign in the Northern Cape, Free State and Gauteng, provinces where the DA has set itself the target of governing after the elections.