A cynical take on the ANC’s “People’s manifesto”

So this weekend the ANC launched its manifesto for the 2019 elections, and I decided to let myself simmer down for a bit before writing about it.

I wasn’t impressed.

It is perhaps telling that when I Googled “The People’s Manifesto” what came up was a stand-up comedian’s parody manifesto.

Anyway here are the bits of the speech that leapt out at me. You can read the full speech on ENCA.

We celebrate the fact that South Africa is today a better place, a nation united in its diversity, working together to overcome the injustices of its past.

Examples of which include members of Parliament telling ethnic groups that they should be happy not to be subjected to calls for genocide, and the odd school still practicing segregation.

It is a nation founded on a democratic and progressive Constitution that guarantees equal rights to all people.

A constitution the ANC is planning to amend to weaken property rights, with supporters of that amendment claiming that wonderful constitution represented Nelson Mandela selling out to white interests.

It is a nation with strong and durable democratic institutions, an independent judiciary, a free media and an active civil society.

And when it is not an election year, the ANC wants to regulate the media.

We have expanded access to health care, increased average life expectancy, reduced maternal mortality and turned the tide of the HIV and AIDS epidemic.

The AIDS crisis wouldn’t have been so huge if it wasn’t for the ANC. After all Thabo Mbeki was an ANC president.

Further our life expectancy in 1994 was about 61 years, now it is about 63.6. To put this into perspective, the global average is over 70.

Our economy has tripled in size since 1994 and over 7 million more South Africans have jobs.

Unemployment is at 27.5%, versus about 20% in 1994.

Yet, despite these remarkable achievements, many of our people live in desperate hardship, without appropriate skills, work or opportunities to improve their lot.

What a twist.

We must acknowledge that state capture and corruption have weakened several of our public institutions, undermined effective governance and contributed to the poor performance of our economy.

We must also acknowledge that factionalism and patronage has diminished the ability of the ANC to lead the process of transformation and fulfil its mandate to the people.

As the ANC, we admit our shortcomings, we accept the criticism of the people and we are hard at work to correct our mistakes.

And that is why the ANC won’t sideline president Jacob Zuma, because they learn from their mistakes.

Let’s work together to grow South Africa.

Let us grow the opportunities available to our people.

Let us grow the economy so that all may have decent jobs and an improving quality of life.

Let us grow our knowledge and our capabilities, and develop the skills that will propel our young people into a new age of discovery.

Let us grow as individuals, respectful of the rights of others, conscious of their needs and concerns, and determined to lend a hand to improve their lives.

Let us? What’s with all this lettuce? The ANC’s in charge, it shouldn’t be saying “Let us” – it should be doing what it was voted into power to do.

Working with all social partners, we will intensify our efforts to restore investor, business and consumer confidence and ensure policy consistency and certainty.

Expropriation without compensation isn’t exactly a good way of assuring people that their investments are safe, particularly given the role property bonds play in finance.

We will take measures to lower the cost of doing business in South Africa, increase productivity and improve competitiveness.

The ANC will do this? He means the ANC haven’t been doing this? This isn’t even a manifesto issue, this is part of government’s basic job.

We will implement the agreements reached at the Presidential Jobs Summit last year by boosting local demand for goods, investing more in sectors like mining, manufacturing and agriculture, and expanding export markets.

What about our trade agreements? When America stamped its feet over our stringent health standards regarding chicken imports, we lowered those standards, how much assurance can we have that something similar won’t happen with our other industries?

We will proceed with the establishment of an Infrastructure Fund, in which we will pool government’s infrastructure budget and use it to raise additional funds from other public and private sources to build roads, rail lines, broadband networks, hospitals, schools, dams and other infrastructure vital for a growing economy.

The ANC will, means the ANC haven’t done it yet, and the ANC have had 25 years in office to do this. I mean this is great stuff, but building infrastructure is also a basic government function – this process should have started a long time ago, it should be present tense not future tense.

We will enable workers to own stakes in the companies they work for and to share in the profits.

I’m all for legally mandated profit-share based bonuses. The trouble with giving workers shares was demonstrated when the mines did the same thing.

What happened there was they had share issues to their workers, and the workers very wisely sold them off because their bosses kept telling them how marginal the business was during wage negotiations.

And you don’t hold on to shares in a business that is laying off staff and struggling to keep afloat. Profit share bonuses meanwhile aren’t something that would just get sold off.

We will open up markets for new, emerging companies by ending monopolies and behaviour that stifles competition.

The ANC will? Does this mean the Competition Commission which was set up specifically to do this, hasn’t been doing its job? There is our problem with the whole ANC government for last 25 years right there, it doesn’t work because it doesn’t work, it talks a big game, but here it is telling us it will do the things it should have already been doing.

We will draw more women, more rural people and more youth into the economy by expanding access to digital skills training to young people, by developing and supporting technological and digital start-ups, and a more concerted focus on SMMEs, cooperatives and township and village enterprises.

This I actually support because it is a booming new industry that produces natural blue oceans, there are things we can do that nobody else can, and thus we can find markets where we aren’t in direct competition.

We will use government’s massive procurement spend to support transformation and job creation, including allocating at least 30% of procurement spend to small businesses and cooperatives.

What runs through my head with this is On Point Engineering. One of the corruption scandals that hit the ANC before state capture was iffy tenders going to politically connected individuals. There needs to be a lot done here to ensure that the people who get the contracts can fulfill them, and that this doesn’t just turn into another avenue for looting.

In fact so much needs to be done, it might just cheaper for government to set up bodies to just perform the tasks involved itself, and not put them up to tender.

We will step up the enforcement of measures to prevent illegal trading and selling of counterfeit and unsafe products.

It will means that it hasn’t, and law enforcement is a basic government function. Why hasn’t this been getting done for the past 25 years?

So far I’m seeing a lot of “We will start doing our jobs” and that isn’t impressive when you’ve had the job for two-and-a-half decades.

The lack of funding for small enterprises, township and village businesses, housing and land is holding back the growth of the economy.

We will work with commercial private banks and other financial institutions on ways to expand access to funding and capital for such businesses and individuals, so that we may unleash their economic and social potential.

Our credit rating is junk and companies cannot have a higher credit rating than their host nation.

We don’t want to change our credit regulations because they’re what saved us from the 2007/2008 market crash, they’re good laws.

SARB, which governs interest rates, is independent, and its mandate is to keep us within a specific inflation band.

Mosebenzi Zwane‘s threats to the banking establishment on behalf of the Gupta family demonstrate why we want to keep SARB independent. Imagine the pandemonium if Nedbank lost its license.

So are we going to set up a second reserve bank, a government merchant bank maybe? Because that’s about all that is left that I think we could do to fulfill this promise.

In this Manifesto, we outline the elements of a plan to accelerate land reform, making use of a range of complementary measures, including, where appropriate, expropriation without compensation.

And that undercuts everything Ramaphosa has to say about finance. Property is one of the most common forms of security, and if that security can be expropriated without compensation how much is it really worth?

Our approach to land reform is guided by our Constitution and by the need to advance economic development, agricultural production and food security.

But the ANC wants to change the constitution, how can it be guided by something it is planning on changing?

For decades, our movement has been defined by selfless service to the people.

Earlier in this speech Ramaphosa said:

We must acknowledge that state capture and corruption have weakened several of our public institutions, undermined effective governance and contributed to the poor performance of our economy.

We must also acknowledge that factionalism and patronage has diminished the ability of the ANC to lead the process of transformation and fulfil its mandate to the people.

Selfless service? Is he sure he didn’t mean self-service?

We therefore will not tolerate those in the public services or in political office who are negligent or use public resources for their own selfish gains.

Does Ramaphosa mean like his deputy, David Mabuza, who the New York Times says used funds intended for Mpumalanga schools to buy favour within the ANC?

We warn transgressors that there will be consequences for those who do not comply.

Consequences like becoming the deputy president?

We cannot and will not allow situations where government fails South Africans.

Oh don’t be so modest Rampahosa, you can and have done for the past 25 years.

We call on all our people to join us in this endeavour to build a capable and ethical state and to ensure that those who are responsible for stealing both public funds and private investments face the full might of the law.

Well to do that we first need to get rid of the thieves, and the most efficient way to do that is to change ruling parties.

A president who’s major excuse for moving slow on corruption is the need to appease half his party, which is corrupt, isn’t exactly in a good position to sort out state corruption.

The next bit is all about free education which is all very well and good, but lets remember that the ANC was forced to do this by #Feesmustfall, it wasn’t something they did off their own bat.

It is unacceptable that access to health services remains dependent on a person’s social and economic circumstances, with poor people still struggling to access quality, reliable health care.

The introduction of the National Health Insurance will correct this injustice.

I support the NHI – provided it is run properly. NHI schemes have worked the world over.

The evidence in favour of NHI on a conceptual is as solid as you’re going to get – the problem is we have a government right now that says it will do the things it should have been doing for the past 25 years.

The NHI is a good idea, I just don’t think the ANC are the right party to deliver on it.

We will improve access to safe, affordable and reliable public transport and, among others, invest in rail infrastructure and work with the taxi industry to ensure a more reliable and safe system.

Another “we will”, which should have been a “we have”, otherwise what is the minister of transport’s job?

We are deeply concerned about the effects of drugs on communities.

They destroy lives – often young lives – tear families apart, feed a culture of violence and enable the spread of gangsterism.

We will improve our social and criminal justice responses to the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse.

If we want to stop the spread of gangsterism, as well as drug abuse, we need to take policing in the Western Cape particularly seriously. Cape Town is a port town, which means it is a natural point of entry for various drugs.

And under the ANC the Western SAPS has been chronically understaffed. I suspect this is because the ANC wants to punish the Western Cape for voting DA – but you can’t afford to do that if you want to solve problems like drugs and gangsterism because those drugs and gangs then spread throughout the rest of the country.

We will continue to intensify efforts in areas where we have made progress, such as stemming the tide of political killings, particularly here in KwaZulu-Natal.

The number of political killings has reduced significantly and a number of suspects have been arrested and are now being prosecuted.

However, one political killing is one too many.

When we talk about political killings, we’re talking about the ANC killing the ANC. Its great that they’re sorting this out – but if they cannot control their own party to the point that this is happening, how can we expect the ANC to control the country?

So here’s the thing, I’m not seeing a good reason to vote for the ANC here, and that’s what I was looking for because to a large extent my vote is up for grabs.

The stuff I didn’t quote I felt was pretty much boilerplate that you’d get whoever was speaking. Our high level of violence against women isn’t something anybody is going to be in support of, and his stance on immigration is as vanilla at it gets.

So it doesn’t really move me either way.

It wouldn’t be entirely out of the question for me to vote ANC if I saw symptoms of it getting better, but I think it needs to be in the opposition benches for a while to do that.

It has been in power for too long, and thus the stuff it should have been doing all along remains eternally in the “we will” bracket, with the expectation that we in the public will vote for promises not for performance.

Because that is what we’ve done up until now. Somebody makes a speech and we think that this what they want to do – but when it comes time to actually do it, they don’t.

That level of complacency needs to go, and that is the real crux of why this speech annoyed me so much.

  • Picture courtesy of GCIS via Flickr.

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