OPINION: ANC's response to recession drawn from lessons of 2009

Ndabezinhle Sibiya

There have been mixed reactions to the visit of ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa to KwaZulu-Natal this past weekend. 

His visit follows a pandemonium that erupted throughout the corners of the country after the release of data showing that South Africa’s economic shrunk 0.7% in the second quarter. This marked the period of recession.

There have been suggestions that the healthy walk in KwaMashu was unnecessary because "people living in poverty and conditions of squalor should not be expected to participate in such activities as they need food and better living conditions".

Others have posted enthusiastically on social media photos of President Ramaphosa accompanied by provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala, provincial and regional leadership and ANCYL provincial leadership.

Despite heavy rain, a positive mood has been prevailing in Durban and various parts of the province with ANC volunteers participating in the Thuma Mina campaign. 

Contrary to feelings of gloom and doom that global recessions normally bring, we need to maintain such a positive mood and unity in order to deal with socio-economic challenges ahead of us. 

Critically, the unity displayed by the leadership has put to rest the perception peddled in mainstream media that KZN is a stronghold of former president Jacob Zuma – and a no-go area for President Ramaphosa. This is what Zikala disputed emphatically during a breakfast session with editors.  

Since last week, both Zuma and Ramaphosa have been in the firing line with economists, commentators, political leaders and members of the public blaming them for the recession.

There are questions that need to be asked. Firstly, are there any lessons that we can draw from the previous recession between 2008 and 2012?   

Secondly, what was the response of the ANC leadership in the country and in KwaZulu-Natal in particular to job losses as a result of recession? 

It should be remembered that South Africa had officially slipped into recession for the first time in 17 years. Here in KZN, the manufacturing sector was severely affected with 117 000 jobs lost in the first quarter of 2009. 

It was also still turbulent times as it was months after the trial of former president Jacob Zuma; the recall of then president Thabo Mbeki and the election of Zuma as the president. 

This period was a serious test of the capacity of the ANC to manage its internal affairs and maintain unity. 

During this period, Dr Zweli Mkhize was the ANC provincial chairperson and premier. Willies Mchunu was the ANC provincial deputy chairperson and MEC for Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Mchunu was later redeployed as MEC for Transport, Community Safety & Liaison and leader of government business. Senzo Mchunu was the provincial secretary.  

These leaders took it upon themselves to work with the ANC collective to guide KZN during that difficult period of recession. Together with the alliance partners in this province, they agreed that this was no time for finger pointing.   

They made a conscious decision to guard against the use of valuable time and energy to highlight their differences. They felt that dwelling on differences had the potential to magnify their weaknesses and diminish their strengths as leaders.

Fast forward to 2018 and the newly elected PEC under the leadership of Zikalala, his deputy Mike Mabuyakhulu, provincial secretary Mdumseni Ntuli and spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane have demonstrated unity since elected, far different from the acrimony of the previous term. 

Issues within the ANC leadership, that have been raising public controversy, have been minimised and society is being mobilised behind a clear program flowing from Luthuli House. If packaged correctly and sustained, the Thuma Mina campaign has the potential to improve the national mood and strengthen the unity and cohesion of ANC members and the public at large.

Lessons from 2009

Back in 2009 during the recession, the ANC leadership nationally and provincially observed that they we were building an ANC-led government in a rather challenging environment where the jaws of the recession had begun to inflict a serious crunch in the economy of the country.

It caused the fiscus to shrink and budgets to be revised downwards. This was aggravated by the spiralling over-expenditure in KZN government. This was not an environment that allowed adequate allocation of resources to satisfy the high expectations that had brought the ANC into office with such high majority.

This then called for a number of strategic interventions on the part of the ruling party. Firstly, the need to prioritise conservation of resources and shifting of budgets to ensure delivery of services was identified.

Secondly, efforts were made to eliminate wastage in the government system by adopting an integrated approach where departments combined efforts to contribute in the achievement of a common objective instead of competing and being obstructive to one another. That way government effected savings that were channelled to areas of need.

At the same time, the ANC in the province decided to provide a Program of Action for the branches that was closely aligned to the service delivery programs on the ground, as planned by the government. 

This was to ensure that ANC structures remained in touch with issues of service delivery and mobilised the masses to continue to participate in the process of transformation. 

Senzo Mchunu, as provincial secretary, ensured strong organisational discipline. His easy-to-approach character ensured that the ANC remained the centre with the active participation of the general membership.

The Program of Action of the ANC was so designed that when the structures embarked on it, this would simultaneously build and strengthen the ANC and help ANC-led government to deliver services which also deepens the faith of the people in the ANC.  

In one of his speeches Mkhize remarked: "Our people must be made part and parcel of all efforts by government to create a better life for all our people – working together with all the people of our province we are bound to succeed."

Agriculture the platform to launch fight against poverty

As directed by the ANC in the province, the provincial government resolved to focus on agriculture as the platform to launch a campaign to fight poverty and build the economy. 

Agrarian revolution was singled out as an important sector that could help turn the situation of our province for the better. A decision was made to stimulate increased investments into the agricultural sector and ultimately increase its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product above the level of 4.7% to double digits. 

The strategy was all-encompassing – from ensuring household food security, creation of revenue especially for rural communities and boosting export potential utilising the catalytic Dube Trade Port which opened in April 2010. 

Reflecting on the past years there is no shadow of a doubt that KZN survived that difficult period because of unity of leadership. The display of unity during Ramaphosa’s visit has ignited a spirit of hope for a better future.  The new PEC looks set to sustain this.

Within the short space of time, the new PEC through its words and action, has turned an atmosphere of despair into bubbling feelings of optimism.

The PEC’s emphases on the participation of structures and community at grass root level in the programmes of the ANC and the ANC-led government will solve the challenge of social distance. This has often been the source of community discontent and riots.

- Sibiya is head of content and knowledge management for the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government Communications. He writes in his personal capacity.

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