Lacklustre. This is the only word that comes to mind after listening to Jacob Zuma delivering his 2016 local government election ANC manifesto speech in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The stadium in Nelson Mandela Bay where the rally took place was awash with red, but not the red of the EFF: the swathes of bright red were empty seats, making it one of the most poorly attended ANC rallies in recent history.
The ANC’s assertion that the 46 000 seat stadium would be filled to capacity was akin to whistling in the wind.
Early on in proceedings, the MC announced that taxis and busses were going back to collect more loyal cadres and bring them to the stadium to listen to the message of hope from No 1, but if that did indeed happen, the effect wasn’t evident in the number of supporters present.
Rather than the stadium being – as asserted by an ANC press statement the day before – black green and gold, it was like an inverted giant red cake, with a soupçon of black, green and gold icing.
Hardly an earth-shattering turnout for the ruling party’s manifesto launch, in an election year when the ANC is at its most vulnerable, and stands to lose anything up to four metros, including Nelson Mandela Bay, which is historically the very heartland of the ANC. The psychological damage of such a loss would be huge, and it could very well set the course for what happens in 2017 during the ANC’s next elective conference, and subsequently during the watershed national and provincial election in 2019.
To say that the reception of the crowd to Jacob Zuma’s speech was muted, would be an understatement. Hardly any of his promises about what the ANC will do in the next five years – all of which we’ve heard multiple times before – raised anything more than a desultory round of clapping and a ragged cheer.
It would be easy to imagine that he himself didn’t really believe what he was telling the seemingly uninterested crowd – when the cameras did turn to the crowd there was much talking going on, and much focus on mobile phones.
Mr Zuma’s speech was marked by a lack of currency, and by that, I don’t mean money. In virtually every statement about what the ANC has achieved thus far, the statistics he quoted were up to and including 2013, a few to 2014 and only one that I noticed to 2015.
My question is, what has happened since then? Why are the statistics of improvement that he quoted so out of date? Perhaps because the current numbers are significantly less impressive?
We’ll likely not know the answer to that question until after August 3, by which time it will be too late.
We were told of the Nine Point Plan, the implementation of which remains shrouded in mystery.
The National Development Plan (NDP) was also dusted off and waved about, with the awkward truth being ignored: that despite its adoption by the ANC at it’s Durban national general council, all that has been paid to it thus far, is lip service.
The fissures in the tri-partite alliance – not the least of which is the neoliberal flavour of the NDP – and their possible impact on polling day hung like an elephant in the stadium, despite the show of apparent solidarity by the likes of Cosatu, the SACP and the SA National Civics Organisation.
But perhaps the most telling aspect of the day, was the exodus of people from the stadium, while Mr Zuma was delivering his keynote address.
And of course, his speech would not have been complete without this little homily: “The ANC is guided by the Constitution of the Republic in all the work it does to improve the quality of life of the people.”
In the words of Paul Simon in the 1973 number Loves me like a rock: Who do you think you’re foolin’, Mr President?