Outside Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg last Sunday, the crowds of ANC supporters were buoyant. They wore their hope on the front of their T-shirts. Considering the party’s past 10 years of governance, the smiling face of President Cyril Ramaphosa may well be the ANC’s last hope.
In the chorus of song and dance, there was also a palpable sense of resurgence. An ANC rally is rarely short of colour, atmosphere or support. But in recent years, its events had begun to feel like something else; without having the precise language to describe it, party events in former president Jacob Zuma’s ANC had their own atmosphere.
But when ANC supporters filled up Ellis Park on Sunday — with an additional 38 000 people being sent to Johannesburg Stadium next door — the mood of the rally, to borrow from party spokesperson Pule Mabe, was the mood of an ANC rally as we know it.
The most hardline ANC loyalists have been at pains to reassure anyone who would listen that the tone of national executive committee meetings has changed under Ramaphosa. The ANC, as everyone else knew it, is back.
But for all their pious protestations, there hasn’t been much to show for that change — especially when Ace Magashule sits comfortably in the secretary general’s office. And certainly not while a host of other deplorables are expected to reoccupy seats in the next Parliament.
But amid the song and dance last Sunday, supporters also admitted their disappointment with the party. For them, Ramaphosa represents the final chance they will give the party to do what it has promised all these years.
Though the Zuma years were breathtaking for the wilful neglect of service to the people of South Africa, the ANC’s failures did not begin with Zuma.
Former Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Haffajee this week shared a timeline on Twitter of some of the ANC’s biggest scandals since 1994. The list, which she pointed out was not exhaustive, tracked back to 1996 and the irregular contract awarded to Mbongeni Ngema for Sarafina II. It included the scuppering of the South African Revenue Service (Sars) under Zuma, but it also reminded us about Oilgate, when an ANC-connected businessman won a PetroSA contract and subsequently transferred the ANC’s cut straight into the party’s coffers. It also served to remind us what a gargantuan effort it would take to reverse that rot.
Cyril Ramaphosa has now been given that mandate. For the good of South Africa, he must force the ANC to do better.
He has already started making some progress on this. He did not hesitate to fire the compromised Sars commissioner Tom Moyane, after Moyane’s repeated refusal to participate in the Nugent commission into irregularities at the tax collection agency.
Following the Constitutional Court ruling that prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams’s appointment was invalid, Ramaphosa took the unprecedented step of creating a panel of experts to help identify the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority. Ramaphosa would go further and appoint a special investigative unit for the authority, which would specifically deal with incidents of complex corruption emanating from the likes of the state capture and Sars commissions.
He has also withdrawn opposition to a legal review of the Seriti commission, which found there had been no wrongdoing in the awarding of the multibillion-rand arms deal.
The president wasted no time in following through on the recommendations of the Mokgoro inquiry, firing former deputy national director of public prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and special director of public prosecutions Lawrence Mrwebi.
But, promising as it all sounds, that is just the start.
To effectively lead South Africa out of the morass, Ramaphosa must prioritise service to the people. For too long, the promise of ANC-led governments has been lost in the stomachs of its cadres.