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[ANALYSIS] Gauteng ANC marshals its 471 branches to prepare for 2019 election

The ANC in Gauteng knows it is just 5 percentage points away from sitting on the opposition benches after the elections in 2019. With the minimising of leadership squabbles of utmost importance, the provincial ANC has given marching orders to its 471 branches to find ways to unify the party in an effort to restore public confidence, to come up with practical steps to implement the “New Dawn” and find ways to decisively win the 2019 elections.

The last two elections, in 2016 and in 2014, were most brutal for the ANC in Gauteng. This time around, there is no Jacob Zuma “elephant in the room” to blame for the ANC’s electoral misfortunes and they have now realised that it is time to clean up their shop.

The ANC lost two major metros in the 2016 local government elections, while its support in other municipalities dwindled; the drubbing came on the heels of losing 10 percentage points in the 2014 provincial elections. There were many opinions as to why the party performed so dismally in South Africa’s economic hub, including that the urban voter was punishing the provincial ANC for the bad leadership of the then party president, Jacob Zuma.

Provincial leaders believed that besides eTolls, the decrease in support was because of former president Zuma’s bad leadership, his enabling of State Capture and a general disregard to citizens in general. But with the passing of time, the sober analysis of the election outcome is reflected as the ANC allowing itself to be its own opposition. It scores too many own goals, new president Cyril Ramaphosa often admits.

Now, with a year or so to go before the elections, ANC leaders in Gauteng have realised that it cannot cling on to electoral power if their own party base is not solidified. On Sunday, the provincial leadership held a press conference to update the media on its readiness to elect new leadership in its regions and, ultimately, elect a new provincial leadership. There has also been some effort by party leaders to school its branches on the implications of having a brutal leadership contest in the province.

Which is why, despite a pending internal leadership election, it is a given that Gauteng premier and ANC Gauteng acting provincial chairperson David Makhura will lead the ANC in the province in the 2019 elections.

With the minimising of leadership squabbles of utmost importance, the provincial ANC has given marching orders to its 471 branches to find ways to unify the party in an effort to restore public confidence, to come up with practical steps to implement the “New Dawn” and find ways to decisively win the 2019 elections. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to figure out that Gauteng ANC’s intention is to set the tone as a party reformed and worthy of popular support.

Enter Ramaphoria.

“In the aftermath of the Nasrec Conference and the subsequent decisions taken by the NEC, the mood is buoyant among the rank and file members and supporters of the ANC in Gauteng,” provincial secretary Hope Papo said in his statement. In other words, the party is going to capitalise on the overwhelming sense of optimism that has gripped the country since the election of President Ramaphosa. Papo added:

“Many are happy that the things that demoralised them and drove many South Africans away from the organisation are now being tackled daily by our movement and its cadres deployed in government.”

It’s a good start – considering the extent of the damage the Zuma years had on the party’s support base. Papo alluded to the damage of the Zuma years when he said:

“There is no turning back to an era where ANC leaders escape an embarrassment to the organisation, its supporters and the people of South Africa.”

But political rhetoric and sloganeering aside, is Ramaphoria enough to secure an electoral win when the margin between win or lose is so small? Bloomberg writer Michael Cohen has raised a similar question – whether Ramaphoria is enough to secure the 2019 elections for the ANC. He has argued that Ramaphosa (and effectively, the ANC leadership) doesn’t have much time before the next elections to convince the electorate to vote for the party only on promises of change. There has to be a tangible difference to convince disillusioned voters that the ANC is worthy of staying in power.

The ANC in Gauteng seems to have realised this now, with Makhura pledging a turnaround in governance, service delivery and radical socio-economic transformation. While cleaning out its house, the ANC has to clean up in the state because if it fails to do so, it is giving the province away to the DA on a golden platter. The ANC knows that it won’t be an easy fight for Gauteng in the 2019 elections because the DA has its eyes firmly set on winning the province.

The DA needs an increase of 20% of support in the election to be the outright ruling party in the province and will obviously rely on on its performance records in the Johannesburg and Tshwane municipalities to convince voters. However, by the DA’s own admission, Ramaphoria won’t make it as smooth a ride to victory as it had anticipated.

The DA also has its persisting race problem to manoeuvre and the ANC has found an election tool in that. In a statement in response to a DA-sponsored motion of no confidence against Makhura scheduled for 15 May, the ANC in Gauteng used the party’s turmoil over race as a defence.

“How does a party that is failing dismally to address the issue of diversity and race think it will successfully run such a diverse province as Gauteng is?” Papo said in a statement. Clever, really.

The election battle in Gauteng is as unpredictable as it would ever be. Judging from the stance of the ANC in the province, they are not willing to surrender it without a fight. They know that voters will no longer be satisfied with fancy promises which are empty at their core. They know that the DA could already taste a win in Gauteng even if it may be through a coalition. They also know that a party at war with itself can never expect a nod of confidence from the broader electorate. Hence the effort on Sunday by Makhura and Papo to convince the public that the “New Dawn” phenomenon is a real thing, at least in Gauteng.

This column first appeared on Daily Maverick. Go to www.dailymaverick.co.za for more comment and analysis.

Qaanitah Hunter is a senior political reporter at Eyewitness News. Follower her on Twitter: @QaanitahHunter

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