A psychological defeat – this has marked the start of the ANC’s 2016 local government elections campaign. Over the years, the party has used its manifesto launch to demonstrate a show of force and presented itself as the only political organisation that represents the hopes and aspirations of the majority of South Africans. 

On Saturday, the party only managed a turnout of about 42 000 from the expected 110 000 people it had promised to bring to the Nelson Mandela Bay stadium.
Perhaps we should be cautious not to judge the events of the last weekend as the beginning of the end for the ANC as it may be no more than a wake-up call for party leaders. Leaders from factions aligned to President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa spoke to the Mail & Guardian a few hours after the event and they both admitted the turnout was an embarrassment to the ANC. 

Some accused ANC’s head of elections and campaigning Nomvula Mokonyane of being out of her depth and others blamed the ANC’s Eastern Cape leadership of sabotage. None of the leaders we spoke to acknowledged the elephant in the room – which is Zuma. He simply failed to capture his audience as evidenced by most in the crowd at the stadium vacating their seats by the time he ended his keynote address. 

While some ANC leaders claimed people left their seats because of the heat, the reality on the ground is that it was not that hot. Perhaps what has not been considered is that the ANC’s manifesto offered nothing new. A tired looking Zuma began by saying a vote for the party was a vote for the Constitution, ironic from a man that has been found by the Constitutional Court to have failed to uphold that very document

This was after he failed to comply with the public protector’s remedial action to pay back the taxpayers money he used for the non-security features at his rural Nkandla homestead. 

The ANC’s top brass, most of whom are serving in Zuma’s Cabinet, have deliberately ignored calls from a few within ANC branches for Zuma to step down. They are beholden to Zuma who has made them comfortable with cushy jobs. 

The ANC should be credited for its commitment that councillors will be forced to sign performance agreements but the jury is out on whether this will be realised given that Zuma has failed to hold his own executive accountable in the past. 

Zuma’s big promise coming into office was that the work of government would be monitored and evaluated on his watch but there is little evidence that this has been realised as some of his ministers go unpunished. A solution for the ANC will not lie in the blame game but the party closing ranks in the best interest of the country, not individual leaders.