BY MOGOMOTSI MAGOME, MOLOKO MOLOTO, PIET RAMPEDI and CANDICE BAILEY
Johannesburg - In what seems to be the ANC’s admission that it can no longer ignore its main political rivals, especially Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, the ruling party went out in full force this weekend to counter them.
It dispatched its big guns, including party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, to areas where the EFF and the DA were launching their election manifestos.
Ramaphosa led a delegation of the party’s 50 national executive committee (NEC) members to the five regions in Limpopo, where the DA was expected to launch its election manifesto on Sunday.
And in Gauteng, provincial ANC chairman Paul Mashatile, and former Youth League leaders headed an apparent fight-back strategy at an election concert four kilometres from the manifesto launch of the EFF.
All dedicated portions of their speeches to attack the EFF.
Mashatile told the crowds in Tembisa that the ANC will never be defeated by another political party.
“The ANC won’t be threatened by parties born yesterday. The ANC is here to stay... it’s been here for 100 years and will continue to be here,” he said.
The ANC’s reaction has been described by analysts as a sign that it was terrified by the rise of the EFF, and the inroads being made by the DA in areas that for years have been known as its strongholds.
The party faced claims of political intolerance after it prevented the DA from marching to its Luthuli House headquarters in Joburg, and planned a counter event against the EFF in Tembisa on Saturday.
These have been denied by ANC leaders, who claimed the events were planned way before they were aware of the opposition’s plans.
ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, who was campaigning in the Moletjie area north-west of Polokwane, dismissed speculation that the ANC deliberately planned its weekend campaign to coincide with the DA event.
Duarte was flanked by some of Limpopo’s political heavyweights including Roads and Transport MEC Lehlogonolo Masoga, the executive mayor of Polokwane local municipality Freddy Greaver and his Capricorn district municipality counterpart Lawrence Mapoulo.
She said the ANC campaign programme had long been planned.
“So whatever happens with anyone else is not our concern and our campaign does not interfere with what they are doing, we are going door to door, irrespective of what Independent Newspapers might wish to support,” said Duarte.
Youth League national convener Mzwandile Masina also dismissed claims that the Tembisa gathering was a direct response to the EFF’s manifesto launch.
“As the ANC, we campaign everywhere, and so do the other political parties. There have been many incidents which can be described as political intolerance by other parties, but that accusation is not levelled against them.
“The Makhulong Stadium was booked last year already, before we had any idea that EFF was going to have an event nearby. The Ekurhuleni municipality is ANC-led, if we were politically intolerant they would not have received permission to use Mehlareng Stadium,” said Masina.
According to political analyst Ralph Mathekga the ANC’s actions in organising the Tembisa event showed that it could no longer pretend not to be worried about the rise of the EFF on the political scene.
“The ANC is extremely intimidated by the EFF. They will no longer pretend not to be intimidated. They now want to mitigate the effect of the EFF in the township,” he said.
Aside from the show of force and numbers displayed by the EFF in filling the Mahlareng Stadium to the rafters on Saturday, the ANC appears to have a bigger problem in the popular manifesto delivered by EFF leader Julius Malema on Saturday.
Malema, donning a red overall suit and an EFF beret, captured the crowd with popular promises that included doubling social grants, creating millions of jobs and reducing the wage gap by increasing the salaries of the lowest paid civil servants such as teachers, police and nurses by up to 50 percent.
According to Malema's socialist programme, moulded along the lines of Cuba and Venezuela, electricity would be subsidised, the National Health Insurance expedited and the criminal justice system transformed to give access to all and ban the use of live ammunition during protests.
In a fiery speech inspired by American civil rights activist Martin Luther-King’s “now is the time” speech, Malema took a swipe at the ANC and other opposition parties.
“None of the existing political parties have met their manifesto promises since 1994, and the dominant political party [ANC] has chosen to shift the goal posts, while continuing to use the same strategy that failed them in the past 20 years,” Malema said.
“The post 1994 government has failed in virtually all its commitments and has chosen to shift the goal posts from 2014 to 2030 through a neo-liberal and impractical National Development Plan Vision 2030.”
More ANC leaders at Makhulong Stadium sustained attacks on Malema with his former colleague at the youth league, Pule Mabe, joining in the rants, saying Malema was running a backyard revolution.
Mabe is a former ANCYL treasurer, and worked with Malema when he was still leading the youth league.
Unlike the scenes which played out on the streets of Joburg during the DA march, there were no reports of violent clashes in Tembisa on Saturday.
The crowds at the stadium were kept entertained by popular local musicians including DJ Black Coffee, Dr Malinga, Zahara, Uhuru, Solly Mahlangu, Candy Mokwena, Busiswa, Solly Moholo and Big Nuz.
The roads leading to both EFF and ANCYL events were gridlocked, that’s if you arrived after thousands of crowds had trickled in.
A dozen Putco buses lined the street leading to Makhulong, where musicians entertained the ANC masses.
The streets surrounding Mehlareng were jammed by private cars parked on the sides, making it more difficult to find space to park. Buses were stacked more nearer to the stadium. There seemed to be heavier police outside the EFF venue, with a helicopter hovering over the vicinity non-stop when the crowds started to disperse.
On the streets, members and supporters of both parties donned new t-shirts handed out by the organisations, and brought the vicinities alive with song and dance. – Additional reporting by Bongani Nkosi