The African National Congress (ANC) began its local government election campaign on Saturday with a manifesto launch and the attendance for the event could easily pass for one of the poorest launch events in recent history.
Held in Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth (an area which has the party fighting to retain local municipality after it scraped through with a 52% margin five years ago) the manifesto launch proved that the party is decreasing in popularity in parts of South Africa. When President Zuma began speaking, the stadium which had been expected to hold an ambitious 100,000 people was barely three-quarters full. Prior to the address, the president had walked onto the pitch at the stadium with the crowd screaming his name and he had even done a dance to excite the crowd, but his delivery of the speech meant to launch the ANC manifesto saw people slowly begin to leave the stadium.
The ANC national leaders and their alliance partners had put up a united front on Saturday and during the build-up to the launch despite a growing rebellion as some party members agitated and continue to agitate for Mr Zuma to resign. For Saturday’s Manifesto launch however, they had leaned on their standard formula of deploying the national executive committee and six top officials to build momentum and excitement ahead of the launch. This time their tactics failed.
The people projected in their absence and even the lackluster and sometimes angry reception of those present, that they were fed up with the bad leadership and corruption that had plagued the region and were uninterested in receiving more empty promises from the compromised national leadership. The abundant empty seats emerged as the only conversation to be had from the manifesto launch and many people took their leave as President Zuma continued making his address.
Saturday’s showing will probably not be enough for the ANC to confront the fool hardiness of their decision to continue to back Zuma when put side by side with some other considerations which in the first place caused them to close ranks. Considerations like the splitting of the ANC and the loss of their majority at national level, as well as loss of control of several provinces. They would also have to contend with the fact that they would be removing two consecutively elected presidents in a row and succumbing to the pressure of the opposition.
The ANC must however not be mistaken that this will be a one-off happenstance. Several penalties of their decision still lie ahead of them and they like the rest of South Africa may have to wait in dread for Zuma’s reign to finally end so they can start recovering.