The past few weeks have been a mixed bag for President Cyril Ramaphosa on the local government elections campaign trail after he decided to skip a return to Soweto this week due to concerns he would be met with another hostile welcome there.
In the Free State this weekend, however, he would have been relieved to be welcomed with cheers in Harrismith and Phuthaditjhaba – despite perceptions among some that the area has long been a “stronghold” for suspended secretary-general Ace Magashule.
Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and Maluti-a-Phofung mayor Masechaba Lakaje were, however, booed by the crowd at the Makwane Sports Ground in Phuthaditjhaba, reports News24.
Thousands of ANC supporters also packed into the Intabazwe Stadium in Harrismith to hear Ramaphosa, reports The Sowetan, in a showing that seemed to make a mockery of the lockdown limit of 2,000 people – and in particular social distancing – which Ramaphosa himself announced at the end of September when moving the country to alert level one.
Ramaphosa moved among supporters offering him cheers, dancing and ululation.
He later also visited QwaQwa.
Ramaphosa, in his address in Harrismith, acknowledged the failings of the ANC-run Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality, including lack of access to water and sanitation (which he blamed on “sabotage”), as well as a huge state housing backlog.
In keeping with the party’s overall manifesto, he appealed to voters to give the ANC another chance.
He promised to root out the “corrupt” individuals responsible for the lack of service delivery in the area, without naming anyone.
The response he received on Sunday was in marked contrast to the jeers that awaited him last month in Soweto, where residents have lost patience with lack of service delivery, especially electricity supply.
On September 18, Ramaphosa was greeted by furious residents who accused the ANC of only remembering them when it was time to campaign for votes. When he was finally allowed to speak, he assured the community that he had spoken to Eskom and had urged the utility to resolve the electricity crisis as soon as possible.
He mentioned a shortage of substations in the area, as well as the problems caused by illegal connections and cable theft. He recommended the installation of prepaid electricity meters to help resolve some of the issues, and alleviate the pressure on the grid caused by electricity theft.
Although he promised to return to Nomzamo, Chiawelo (where Ramaphosa was raised) and Naledi in Soweto to give residents feedback, that visit was cancelled at the 11th hour despite media alerts for the event already having gone out. Sunday World has reported the decision was taken to avoid Ramaphosa again being jeered after it came to light that a contractor in the area was refusing to replace a generator after all the previous generators were stolen.
It’s not yet known whether the president will return to Soweto before polling day on 1 November.
Ramaphosa also had to deal with an unruly crowd on Friday in Tshwane. In Ga-Rankuwa, angry residents used his visit to hurl insults at the local ANC councillor.
Ramaphosa told them to “keep quiet, you’re drunk”, in what was apparently a joke.