Still smarting from the ANC’s disappointing elections results in the Western Cape, provincial secretary Faiez Jacobs wants the party to go back to the people on the ground, unify and renew.
Speaking to News24 on Friday morning, before jetting off to Gauteng for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s inauguration, Jacobs used the words “unity”, “renewal” and “non-racialism” often and provided a brutally frank assessment of the party’s worst electoral performance in the province.
The ANC garnered 28.5% of the vote on the provincial ballot, down from 2014’s 32.89%. The disappointment that was evident on Jacobs’ face in the Western Cape’s results centre two weeks before, was still near the surface.
“Whilst the facts and figures are there, in the air, the feeling on the ground is that people’s lives have not improved – both at a national level, also in the Western Cape. Our campaign was mainly at a Western Cape level. So, we anticipated a better result. I mean, the polls were saying to us that we are at about 38%. And we also anticipated a gatvol-factor in the DA. Zille in her later years was almost like the Zuma-years, and people felt that she alienated her from her constituency.”
“There was a perfect storm, and we didn’t take advantage of it.”
Contributing to the result was a low turnout in poorer areas – traditionally the ANC’s strongholds. According to the numbers that Jacobs has since crunched, the turnout in the poorer areas was around 50%, while it was up to 80% in the more affluent, traditionally DA-supporting areas.
Added to that was the plethora of smaller parties, which also took some votes from the ANC.
But Jacobs isn’t only going to look for external factors.
“Look, we needed to go quiet and do introspection, but some of us chose to start the blame game. For me it is very clear, we must take collective responsibility for the situation, we all are disappointed. We didn’t resonate with the communities, the communities told us strong stories,” he said.
However, it did seem there was a vote for Ramaphosa, as the ANC support in the province was higher on the national ballot than what it was on the provincial ballot.
“Ten-to-one, if your councillor wasn’t popular in the area, you wouldn’t get the support in the area,” Jacobs explained.
“Part of the reflection for us is what can we do differently. So I made the call for unity, that we must regroup, we must look at what is the constituency saying to us. There is unhappiness with the DA, but it doesn’t translate automatically into support for the ANC. There is a bigger voter apathy, especially between women and young people.
“So for us, it is back to basics again.”
This means literally hitting the ground, speaking to communities, taking up their struggles and for ANC branches to be “vibrant communities”.
It still doesn’t sit well with Jacobs that the DA’s campaign asking voters to keep the ANC and EFF out of the Western Cape seemingly paid dividends. He calls it “fear-mongering” and “swart gevaar” tactics.
“We didn’t do a negative campaign, while the DA kept [on] with this thing of ‘Keep the ANC, EFF out’. It’s a subtle form of racism. It’s basically saying, don’t vote for the issues, vote for keeping blacks out.
“They couldn’t use the corruption ticket anymore because [Jacob] Zuma is no longer around. So it had to use ‘Keep the blacks out’. And that fear-mongering is still very prevalent, the dilemma with poor, coloured voters, [they think] ‘Maybe my future is going to be better off with a white premier than maybe with the African ANC’.
“And that is a narrative we want to break. We want to say we need a Western Cape that is broadly inclusive, that represents all the constituencies. And the DA has the numeric advantage, but they really don’t know how to bring people together. Both in their processes and in a non-racial character, which is a key thing.”
In the aftermath of the election, the internal divisions in the ANC’s provincial structures reared its head in public.
The provincial treasurer, Maurencia Gillion (who on Thursday was sworn in as an MP in the National Council of Provinces), was suspended after the controversial donation by Iqbal Survé. Last Friday, the suspension was lifted, which was the next day denied by PEC-member and provincial spokesperson Lionel Adendorf, who was then informed he is no longer provincial spokesperson.
Western Cape elections campaign manager Ebrahim Rasool declined to take up his seat in the Western Cape legislature as Cameron Dugmore took the position of leader of the official opposition.
Meanwhile, the rumour mill had it that Jacobs was sympathetic to the faction that is manoeuvring to oust Ramaphosa, ostensibly with ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule as the lynchpin.
Speaking on these matters, Jacobs doesn’t mention names.
“Look, it was unfortunate that the national issues of Nasrec came into our province.
“Now, it is very clear where I stand as a person. If you know my history, I’m the person that delivered 180 votes for the president [Cyril Ramaphosa] in Nasrec. Me. I’m not being boastful, I’m being factual. I was the secretary, it was difficult to work against a president [Jacob Zuma] at that time, and we needed to keep our hands on the flag. Through difficult periods, we were committed to change, and I am still committed to change. And renewal. But unity and renewal is not either or. It must be and, and.
“And there has been a mischievous approach to paint me in a particular corner. And I think unsuccessfully so. Look, I’m very clear, I support the president and his renewal efforts. I was the one that fought for these renewal efforts.”
Jacobs said he is strongly committed to selfless leadership and to end corruption.
“Leaders that are found on the wrong side of the law, must take responsibility.
“I also know the ANC post-Nasrec, and I have to work in that framework, and I have a boss, and we respect the president and the secretary-general and all the national office bearers and all the NEC members.
“And when the president called post-Nasrec for unity, it was for unity around a renewal programme, it’s not unity for the sake of unity. It is unity around doing the right thing, drawing the line in the sand.”
He said while they were in election mode, they couldn’t wash their dirty linen in public.
“We acknowledge our mistakes. I’m on record saying I apologise collectively, even though I didn’t steal. We apologise for our collective mistakes that we have made in the past. We’ve apologised for that, but we in the ANC will have an approach to deal with our own internal renewal. And that for me is the key thing.”
About Survé’s controversial R1m donation, he said: “Look, we were in a difficult position. We’re on a shoestring budget and we have to feed a lot of people.
“So, for the record: No money was misappropriated.”
He said there will be an auditing process, including the regional structures.
He said it is unfortunate that some comrades made their “internal matters” public.
“I don’t want to comment on that. For the record: if anyone has evidence of anything untoward on me, put it out there, I challenge them.”
“So what is our way forward? I think for us, we’re getting local elections assessment reports. We get our structures to go to constituencies to say, ‘Why did we get what we have?’. People don’t want the ANC fighting. I think for me that is the key thing.
“So, we must collectively apologise to the people for some of our irresponsible [behaviour] – I’m saying collectively because some of our members are irresponsible individually. It’s not organisationally disciplined to put your internal differences for public consumption.”
“As secretary, I call on all our members to raise their differences and issues in the appropriate structures of the ANC. The ANC has a massive internal democracy, we’re not like other parties, one mistake then DC and then they fire you, look at the DA. The DA is a Stalinist organisation, they don’t allow dissent. If you have a slightly different view to the line, they deal with you.
“Where in the ANC, we encourage a thousand flowers to bloom! And we celebrate the differences we have. So I’m calling on the people to stop playing to the gallery.
“I’m also calling to people who have lost out on the lists to accept that they didn’t make it.”
He explained that the ANC’s internal list process is very robust, but that the party is looking at renewing this process. Meanwhile, they intend to be a constructive opposition in the Western Cape.
“We’ve also appointed a very strong team in the legislature, led by Cameron. Cameron is a senior veteran. We are very proud of him being the leader of the opposition, it demonstrates our commitment to non-racialism. It demonstrates our commitment to getting the best people in the team.
“Cameron will promote what we call an effective opposition, but also a constructive opposition. We want from day one to ensure that premier [Alan] Winde’s cabinet deliver for all our people, not deliver for a privileged few, for those that have voted [DA], and deliver for nepotism and jobs for pals and this culture of wit for purpose and patronage that they have. We want them to serve the poor, including African communities, including coloured communities, even those that didn’t vote for them.
“Cameron and his team are going to keep this new administration on their toes,” he promised.
“We want the blame game to stop. They are in government, Winde must lead us now. He must govern, he must govern all of us. We respect him. He must govern well, he must listen to people. He must serve. He must come into areas and see how people are staying. Don’t rely on the smoke and the mirrors and the blaming of national government.”
Jacobs’ life in politics started in the late 1980s as a member of Congress of South African Students (COSAS) and the Western Cape Students Congress (WECSCO). His leading role in the defiance campaign across high schools in the Cape led to his incarceration in Victor Verster prison.
In the 1990s he worked as an administrator and researcher for the ANC parliamentary caucus, where he also was the founding shop steward for Nehawu in Parliament.
This is where he is now returning. On Wednesday, he was one of the MPs sworn into the National Assembly.
“Look, as for me, I’m fortunate that I’m in Parliament now. It is a new site of struggle. I’m very grateful and humbled for the opportunity that the ANC has bestowed on me to go to Parliament. I’m hopeful that we can use that space, especially for the people on the Cape Flats. A lot of people on the Cape Flats feel marginalised and alienated to progress and development.”
He spoke passionately about the improvement he wants to see on the Cape Flats, vowing that he will be a “champion for national investment of the ANC national government to the Western Cape”.
“If there is the youth employment process that the president is rolling out, one million jobs, then I’m going to put up my hand: ‘And president, what is our quota for the Western Cape for those one million jobs?’
“We need rehabilitation centres. We need to kill the factory that produces the drug economy. I am using those strong words. If you give that youngster on the Cape Flats hope and an opportunity that there is an alternative to the criminal economy, he will go there.
“That, for me, is a personal drive.”
Apart from this self-imposed mission he is taking to Parliament, he also needs to organise a provincial ANC conference by September or October.
He wants people to join the ANC, and for existing members to renew their membership in the run-up to that conference.
“Be part of Cyril’s renewal. Because if you renew and unite the ANC and you build a better and stronger ANC it will bode well for South Africa. There is a direct relationship between a stronger, united, better ANC, and a stronger, united, better South Africa.
“Because the ANC is the only organisation in South Africa that can look after the majority, African communities, but also say that we strive for non-racialism. People like coloured and white and Indian communities can find expression of a home and a space and place for them in the ANC. So the ANC is modernising and it is remembering non-racialism.
“Our job is to strive to that unity. So we’re going to work, to the best of our abilities, to strive for maximum unity to go to provincial conference. The conference must unite us around a programme for constructing victory for 2021.”