/ 24 February 2024

WRAP: Packed stadium, but little new as Ramaphosa delivers ANC election manifesto

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President Cyril Ramaphosa gestures to supporters during his address at the African National Congress election manifesto launch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on February 24, 2024. (Photo by RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP via Getty Images)

The ANC pulled off a massive show of strength, but offered very little new to voters at its 2024 election manifesto launch in Durban on Saturday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered the manifesto — a pared down version of the 2019 edition dealing with six key areas of focus for the next five years — to a packed-to-the-rafters Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The 58 page document does little to outline what the ANC would do differently to implement policies aimed at creating jobs; boosting industrialisation; tackling the high cost of living; investing in people; defending democracy and building a better Africa and world.

What it does do is commit to placing the manifesto at the centre of government spending — and resource allocation — for the next five years.

Not only will individual ministers’ performance contracts be linked to the implementation  of key areas of the manifesto, but its content will be “integrated into existing government systems” across the state.

The manifesto focuses in detail on achievements of the past 30 years since 1994 — and the past five of “renewal” in the ANC led by Ramaphosa — taking stock of advances in providing housing, education, social welfare and basic services.

More of an invitation to voters to give the ANC another five years to complete what it has achieved over three decades than a promise of anything new, the manifesto steers away from any extravagant promises.

It also places no real targets for an ANC government post May 2024 to deliver on, with the only big figure undertaking being the commitment to use the state to create and sustain 2.5 million “work opportunities” over the next five years.

Far less ambitious — and flamboyant — than the promises it made to voters in 2019 — or any other election for that matter — the ANC in the manifesto acknowledges that South Africa has the choice to “transform or stagnate” without a radical shift to “broad-based industrialisation, employment and youth and women’s empowerment by 2030”.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, load shedding, the global political conflict, state capture and the July 2021 unrest have “tested our democracy, resilience and leadership”, placing South Africa at a crossroads, it says.

In the manifesto, the ANC does not commit to creating the “decent jobs” it spoke of in the past should it return to government after the national and provincial poll, but rather  “work opportunities.” 

It promises to make use of the state and its leverage with the private sector to create these opportunities — using the Presidential Employment Stimulus; funding to civil-society and providing work opportunities for unemployed graduates.

It also commits to  expanding and institutionalising a National Youth Service in partnership with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), to involve 100 000 young people in the next five years.

It also promises to increase support to small businesses, entrepreneurs and cooperatives, claiming it can create one million work opportunities in this way.

The manifesto focuses heavily on helping build South African industries to promote job creation by addressing the energy, transport and logistics crisis; investing heavily in infrastructure and by protecting strategic domestic industries — like steel — and assisting in the creation of new ones.

The governing party promises to tackle the high cost of living and to strengthen the social security system, including progressively implementing a basic income grant by extending and improving the coverage of the R350 a month social relief of distress grant for the unemployed.

Other measures include ensuring the national minimum wage increases in line with inflation; unemployment insurance; zero rating a great range of foods for value-added tax; maintaining and expanding subsidised basic services like water, houses and electricity for the poor. 

Unlike earlier manifestos, the ANC makes no grand promises —or sets any form of target for itself — with regards to housing delivery, saying only that “we will develop more subsidised human settlements.”

The party undertakes to “continue building subsidised housing for vulnerable groups”, to upgrade informal settlements and provide basic services and to improve regulation of housing rentals to protect consumers.

The manifesto also sets no targets for addressing the crisis in service delivery at local government — or in the provinces — instead committing to filling vacancies with qualified people and to ensuring that its public representatives and deployees “are held accountable for the basic services to communities that form part of their responsibilities”.

It commits to tracking work done at municipal level and to “act against public representatives who are not performing, which may include their recall”.

The water crisis receives direct and significant attention, with a promise of greater powers of intervention for national and government to allow them to step in where “municipalities are struggling to properly provide this service, build maintenance capacity and complete water infrastructure projects”.

The manifesto commits to continuing the fight against state capture, including giving the Investigating Directorate permanent status and strengthening law enforcement and the prosecuting service. 

It says internally, the ANC has implemented the “step aside rule” against those charged with corruption pending the outcome of their cases, and strengthened the selection criteria for public representatives candidates, “prioritising skills, educational knowledge,  experience and integrity”.

Former military veterans are also promised a “restoration of dignity”, with a promise that the ANC would work to ensure “every sector of society, government and business contributes” to this to ensure their welfare is taken care of.

The manifesto acknowledges some of the party’s failings and the reality that “hardship and suffering of many has led them to believe that ANC leaders care only about themselves, that we are soft on corruption, and that we do not care about the suffering of ordinary people”.

“We admit we made mistakes as the ANC, with some members and leaders undermining institutions of the democratic state and advancing selfish personal interests.”

It commits to the renewal programme endorsed by the past two ANC elective conferences, to “more effectively address society’s challenges, conduct its affairs in line with its core values and renew the movement so it can continue to serve and lead the people”.

It says the ANC is “now raising the intellectual capacity and enhancing the moral and ethical orientation of our membership” so they can “show exemplary conduct in society.”

The party says that it wants to ensure the commitments it makes in the manifesto materialise by “embedding” it in core government policy to ensure that resources are allocated to make this happen.

It undertakes to align ministers’ performance contracts with implementing specific manifesto points as part of a plan which would also include basing the government’s medium term strategic priorities on its contents.