South Africa’s governing African National Congress is intent on turning itself around and addressing voter disillusionment over poor government services and high levels of crime, poverty and unemployment, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.
“The renewable process is irreversible, it is irrevocable,” Ramaphosa told a rally at a stadium in the central city of Mangaung, where the party was founded 111 years ago. “We do not pursue the path of renewal for its own sake, but we do so that we can drive our energies to solving the pressing problems facing the people of South Africa.”
The ANC is Africa’s oldest political movement and has held power in the continent’s most industrialized nation since the end of White-minority rule in 1994. While it initially made strides in raising living standards and improving access to housing, water and electricity, its image was battered by the rampant graft and mismanagement that characterized Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule.
Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma in early 2018, has sought to turn the ANC and government around, but his efforts have been frustrated by power shortages, the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing corruption. Support for the party dropped below 50% in municipal elections in 2021, and several opinion polls show it risks losing its majority in a national vote next year.
The dire state of government is on stark display in Mangaung, where residents contend with gaping potholes, uncollected litter and broken traffic lights. Paul Mashatile, the ANC’s deputy president, attracted little attention when he took to the city’s streets on Saturday and those who did engage him pleaded for jobs and better services.
“The ANC has dropped the ball, we accept that,” Fikile Mbalula, the party’s secretary general told reporters. “We know we have got to transform the economy. We will not win back the confidence of voters if we don’t deal with socio-economic conditions and matters of security.”
Ramaphosa, 70, will be the ANC’s presidential candidate in the upcoming elections after winning a second five-year term as party leader at its national conference last month. His assurances that the ANC is committed to cleaning up its act were dealt a setback when several officials who’ve been criminally convicted or been implicated in taking bribes were elected to its top decision-making structure.
The ANC will enforce a rule requiring officials who’ve been criminally charged to relinquish their government and party posts, speedily implementing the recommendations of a judicial panel that investigated corruption during Zuma’s rule, and appoint officials based on merit, according to Ramaphosa.
Other priorities included ending blackouts, cutting red tape for business, tackling racism and ensuring banks increase financing for black-owned businesses, he said.