President Jacob Zuma has been noticeably absent from the ANC’s campaigning ahead of its 105th birthday celebrations scheduled for the coming weekend – breaking the tradition of the party leader taking point in rallying support ahead of the January 8 speech.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said that the president was apologetic about missing the door-to-door campaigns, but did not elaborate as to why Zuma was absent. Further, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa made it clear that there was “no conspiracy” in the matter, and that the president was attending to other government matters.
The lead up to the ANC’s 105 year celebrations has been muted, with the party entering 2017 wounded and battered from a tough 2016, in which it saw a massive drop in support, and huge losses in three major metros during the elections.
While the party took collective responsibility for the tough year, supporters and insiders place the blame squarely at the feet of president Zuma, whose scandals have undeniably brought the party into disrepute.
Mantashe this week admitted to divisions and widespread corruption in the ANC, but said that the coming weekend and year ahead would be about the ANC coming together and unifying under one ideology to take the party forward.
Meanwhile, Gauteng ANC leader Paul Mashatile has said there is strong sense of denial within the party, with officials refusing to acknowledge its problems.
All these factors have made it a tough week of campaigning for the party – which became evident when its attempts to paint a positive narrative over social media backfired, and it’s #WeAreANC hashtag became a platform for criticism rather than promotion.
According to water and sanitation minister Nomvula Mokonyane, the ANC’s January 8 statement will present the opportunity for the party to unite its supporters, and show that the party is self-correcting, and that it has listened to the concerns raised by its members.
The ANC will have a turbulent year ahead as it moves towards its elective conference in December, where a new leader for the party (and likely the country) will be chosen. Analysts predict the divisions within the ANC to widen, as Zuma supporters clash with factions which are seeking reform.
The current front-runners to the presidency are seen as deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa (supported by reformists) and AU chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (supported by Zuma’s faction).
Zuma will deliver his opening address for 2017 on Sunday, January 8.