The ANC needs to find an appropriate language and rallying platforms to connect with the urban middle-class vote, writes Kuseni Dlamini.
The ANC’s 103rd anniversary due to take place in Cape Town on Saturday comes at one of the most challenging times in the movement’s history in general and in its 20-year history as the ruling party of Africa’s economic and political powerhouse, in particular.
The choice of venue itself is significant because the ANC has struggled to hold onto power in the Western Cape, which is the only province ruled by the opposition DA for the past 20 years.
The anniversary celebrations are likely to be used as part of a big push towards improved electoral performance at next year’s local government elections, which are likely to set the tone for the crucial 2019 general elections.
All political parties will be hoping to enhance their electoral gains in the 2016 showdown, which is likely to be the most competitively contested local government election since South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.
Big metros like Tshwane, Joburg, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay will be at stake as the country’s balance of political forces undergo unprecedented shifts.
The battleground for all parties will be the urban middle-class vote, which the ANC can and will fight to retain as the opposition parties go all out to win over these voters.
The ANC needs to find an appropriate language and rallying platforms to connect with the urban middle-class vote.
The youth vote is another space where the ANC has conceded ground, especially to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
The sooner the ANC has a functional and well-constituted leadership of its youth league, the better its prospects will be to re-engage and reconnect with the country’s youth who have found a new political home in Julius Malema’s party.
The rise of the EFF has been at the ANC’s expense. The EFF has been given a free pass with the youth vote, with the ANC Youth League battling to get its house in order.
Luthuli House can and must provide appropriate political direction to its youth league if the ruling party is to win and retain the hearts and minds of the young lions who are the future of any political party.
Any party without a strong and functioning youth league usually dies a slow death. Strong and dynamic parties the world over have very strong and functional youth wings. They just adopt a different form in an indifferent societies.
The ANC must stop mourning the loss of the urban middle-class vote as this runs the huge risk of being a self-fulfilling prophecy. This vote is not lost yet to the ruling party.
It is there for the picking of all the parties that can manage to craft and execute efficient strategies to win the hearts and minds of this crucial voting bloc.
Successful ruling parties tend to have the capacity to build and consolidate a broad and diverse coalition of voters from all classes, races and genders.
For the ruling party, the challenge and opportunity is to retain its core working – and upper-class – vote while effectively reaching out to the fickle urban middle-class vote.
The January 8 anniversary has always been a platform to articulate and reinforce the ANC’s broad church aims.
On that score, it has been unifying across class, race and gender lines.
President Jacob Zuma needs to articulate that strongly and ensure it becomes a central plank of the party’s mass mobilisation strategy and tactics going forward if the ANC is to reverse some of the losses suffered in some of the country’s big metros, especially in Gauteng.
Politics and the economy are in a state of constant, if not chaotic, flux in South Africa and in most parts of the world.
Emerging markets like South Africa, Brazil, Russia, Turkey and Indonesia are no longer the key drivers of global economic growth as they grapple with anaemic growth on their home fronts.
They continue to be exposed to global economic forces that are beyond their control.
Times are tough. But opportunities for innovation abound.
The anniversary statement provides the ruling ANC with a golden opportunity to articulate a very thorough and well-informed analysis of the challenges facing the South African economy and society and a compelling road map to prosperity for all.
More of the same alone won’t be enough to ensure survival and success. When reality changes, so must parties and their strategies.
Last year’s general election results must be a wake-up call for the ANC.
It has to unpack the implicit and explicit messages and respond appropriately.
There are challenges galore for the ANC, both from within and beyond its own ranks.
However, every challenge presents an opportunity for strategic and tactical innovation for the ANC and other political actors.
Parties that succeed in winning hearts and minds are those that constantly have the best analysis of the changing socio-political and economic landscape to inform their strategies and tactics.
The imperative to adapt to new dynamics and leverage them to maximise gains is indispensable to success for the ANC in most areas of endeavour.
In his 1972 anniversary statement, then ANC president Oliver Tambo reminded the party faithful that the event was not just about the birth of the ANC but the birth of a nation.
Tambo said: “The leaders of the African people converged on Bloemfontein on January 8, 1912, to found the (movement), to become one people and to continue their centuries-old struggle… as one black people that spoke and acted through the ANC.”
This was a bold and confident assertion of the ANC’s historic conception of its role as a leader of society. The ANC managed to enjoy that political positioning because of the hegemony that it enjoyed by occupying the moral, political, intellectual and philosophical high ground.
Its ability to engage with the broadest and most diverse constellation of stakeholders and interest groups was second to none.
When the ANC spoke, friends, supporters and foes alike listened.
The party had the ability to inform and shape public discourse in ways that advanced the liberation project and put the apartheid regime and its apologists on the defensive. The ANC can and must unleash its ability to be a real leader of society on real issues that matter to real people with whom its must deepen its connection.
*Dlamini is a member of the National Council of the SA Institute of International Affairs.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.