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Although the ANC has little or nothing new to offer voters in the November elections under its newly launched manifesto, its liberation history and its commendable pockets of delivery for the marginalised in the past 27 years will still make it appeal to many voters.
But the 2016 loss of the significant metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay was a telltale sign about where it was going.
There are already signs of dissatisfaction among the youth, who are beginning to explore alternatives to the former liberation movement they know little about.
Large numbers of semiskilled young people sit along the streets in search of jobs, while young graduates have been seen literally begging for jobs from motorists at street lights.
The sad news is that the latest Statistics SA report puts the unemployment rate at 34.4% in the second quarter.
During this same period, people aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 recorded the highest unemployment rates of 64.4%.
Unlike the older generation of mainly black citizens, young people have no appreciation of the ANC’s liberation history.
All they know is that under its rule, their qualifications have become useless. Launching the ANC manifesto in Tshwane on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the country’s economy had lost nearly two million jobs, which he attributed mainly to the Covid pandemic.
Since the local outbreak, many businesses have closed down and many citizens have faced financial hardship due to retrenchments.
To alleviate this, Ramaphosa promised more social relief packages to businesses and unemployed individuals adversely impacted by the pandemic.
To avert hunger and suffering, poor communities will be sustained with soup kitchens and the school feeding scheme.
In the past, food parcels have been used as a vote-attracting strategy, but the pandemic has given the ANC government justification to dish out more state-sponsored food officially.
While the ANC had a few pockets of service delivery excellence at places such as the Steve Tshwete local municipality in Mpumalanga, these were limited but failed to be exploited to attract votes elsewhere, as the Democratic Alliance did with Cape Town and others.
Good work got overshadowed by glaringly poor service delivery, endemic corruption and high unemployment in the municipalities it governed.
The party has a lot to do to convince voters to change their minds in the 2024 national election, never mind the November polls.
However, the party’s decision to let communities select councillor candidates is a positive development that has prompted some voters to give it another chance.
For the first time since 1994, the candidate selection process was inclusive of non-ANC members, thereby expanding its legitimacy in the eye of the general public.
“People want councillors they know and trust, who will be responsive to community concerns and available when problems arise,” Ramaphosa said.
Whether the ANC will be able to unite, renew and revitalise itself, as promised by Ramaphosa, remains to be seen.
Unity has been a difficult project for the governing party since 2007, when two distinct factions emerged strongly.
While the ANC knows local government is at the coalface of service delivery, the party has not endeared itself to voters at this level of government.
Instead, the majority of ANC-controlled municipalities have collapsed completely amid political infighting.
But Ramaphosa pledged “that we will do better”. The party offered to correct its mistakes.
“We have not always put the best people in positions of responsibility,” he said.
“Too often, we have been slow to act when our public representatives and leaders committed wrongdoing, when they abused their position or failed in implementing the mandate that you gave them.”
Ramaphosa was optimistic, perhaps overoptimistic, as he promised change.
“Now, with the forthcoming elections, we have an opportunity to bring this renewal to local government. Together, we have an opportunity to turn local government around. We have come a long way since the dawn of democracy,” he said.
The ANC’s strength has been in its impressive history as the leader of the liberation struggle and its championing of service delivery in the first decade of its rule.
The delivery of water, electricity, human settlements and social security grants are what some will remember about the party as they cast their ballots on 1 November.
Beyond that it has no good story to tell the electorate.