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Johannesburg - Jacob Zuma has been travelling the length and breadth of the country to campaign for his re-election for a second term come Wednesday.
Not only has the president been consolidating his support in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, but he has also been campaigning in volatile provinces like the Eastern Cape, which he has already visited four times this year.
Zuma has also kept with the ANC’s intentions to unveil what the party has described in its internal documents as “bragging projects”– mega projects that the ANC uses to showcase progress made by the Zuma administration. As the party was finalising its election campaign plans last year, those in charge of its communication machinery came under fire for an apparent failure to effectively communicate the party’s achievements.
The ANC’s monitoring and evaluation unit, led by deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, is believed to have recommended that ministers, premiers and MECs had to come up with “bragging projects” to capitalise on during the campaign.
While these are government projects that citizens should expect to be completed regardless of whether it is an election year or not, most appear to be papering over the cracks of service delivery failures of the Zuma administration.
Zuma recently launched the R25 billion housing project in Cornubia in the eThekwini municipality, where 480 people received keys to their new homes after the completion of the first phase of the project, which he announced during his State of the Nation Address.
This is a massive project that aims to house more than 28 000 people, but the song and dance around the project is actually to mask the lack of housing provision in eThekwini and the rest of the country.
According to the municipality’s own figures, eThekwini has a housing backlog of 400 000.
In essence, the R25bn project will satisfy less than seven percent of the current demand in that period.
The annual report further concedes that with more than 3.5 million people living in informal settlements across the city, the backlog is unlikely to be eradicated by 2050, way beyond the 2030 timeframe on which most aspects of the National Development Plan are centred.
There has undoubtedly been much progress in the provision of housing and sanitation in the municipality and the province, but it is these kinds of challenges that the ANC is trying to counter with the “bragging projects”.
Zuma has arguably spent most of his campaigning days in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, with the latter receiving an unprecedented number of visits – he has visited the Eastern Cape four times since January, two of those last month.
One of the major projects he recently launched was the R12bn Umzimvubu Water Project, which covers the construction of two dams and a hydro-power plant in Laleni.
The Nelson Mandela Bay metro, which houses the economic hub of the Eastern Cape that is Port Elizabeth, is set to be one of the main beneficiaries of this project, along with OR Tambo, Alfred Nzo and Joe Gqabi district municipalities.
Zuma also descended on the Nelson Mandela Bay metro with almost half of his cabinet, including finance minister Pravin Gordhan – and his chequebook – to pledge support for the municipality.
The Eastern Cape, however, remains one of the provinces most affected by an ineffective public service across its district and local municipalities.
The auditor-general’s most recent report on the performance of the municipalities was scathing: “It is clear that very few of the key players in local government in the Eastern Cape live up to their responsibilities and they add very little in terms of assurance on, or credibility of, what is being done at municipal level,” said the AG.
While the project is expected to create over 6 000 jobs, youth unemployment in the mostly rural province is estimated at more than 50 percent. The president also moved to the Free State, where he paid a visit to the R350m Grain Field Chickens Projects.
The abattoir has increased chicken production from 9 000 to 130 000 a day following financial intervention from the government. Zuma was quick to tell this “good story”.
In March, the president was also in the Sekhukhune area in Limpopo, to launch the R3bn De Hoop Dam project.
Zuma reportedly told crowds there that he was “not campaigning”, but went on to list the ANC’s achievements in government over the last 20 years and during his five-year term in office.
What is not in dispute, however, is that the president has cleverly used his incumbency at the Union Buildings to secure another term.
This has been a trend throughout the elections, and it has been a deliberate ploy by the ANC.
In its provincial executive committee (PEC) lekgotla in February last year, the Gauteng ANC took resolutions to the same effect.
Its resolutions were clear that “in a year of elections, there should be a great push for implementation and effective service delivery”.
According to the resolutions, the commission agreed that the ANC accelerate the completion of projects, “which involves amongst others transport (highway projects, BRT, rail infrastructure, etc.), social infrastructure (schools, hospitals like Zola and Natalspruit projects).”
True to their intentions, Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane this week opened the Zola-Jabulani Hospital, six days before the elections but 10 years after the tender for the project was awarded.
ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said it was “very narrow” to look at projects which the president has only launched recently. “Our infrastructure programme since 2009 has cost more than a trillion, and three more trillions will be spent going foward.
“Our people need infrastructure and that is what we are doing. Whether it is dams, schools or hospitals. You must look at what we have done the entire term, not just recently, to understand the good story that we are talking about,” said Mthembu.
According to Mthembu, the ANC did not need to campaign on these projects as “our people are living this good story, their lives are directly impacted by the projects. It’s not a message that needs to be sunk in”.
With this crucial election also marking 20 years of democracy, it is perhaps expected that the ANC will take ownership of the achievements of successive ANC administrations since 1994, but the party has been reluctant to take ownership of the failures as well.
The DA, the only other political party in South Africa that runs an administration, is learning fast and has been capitalising on its delivery record in the Western Cape to secure the province again after election day. The party is using its administrative achievements in the Western Cape as a springboard to make inroads in other provinces like Gauteng.
However, any attempts to lay the blame for the lack of service delivery in townships like Langa and Khayelitsha at the door of the DA are met with hostility and denials.
Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the ANC was at an advantage since their political rivals were in no position to “brag” about anything as they were not in charge of service delivery.
“These kind of projects are the low-hanging fruits that the ANC can use to create a favourable face-to-face interaction with residents where they can say ‘this is what the government has done, and we will do more if we are voted in again’.
“Unfortunately, it opens them up to criticism about the timing of the launches, and the haste with which some government projects are now being launched and completed. The critical question is whether the party will own the shortcomings in service delivery in the way that they are owning the successes,” said Mathekga.
He said opposition parties could criticise the ANC for this, but he was certain they would be doing the same thing if they were in power.
When Icasa warned broadcasters, through its election regulations, to tread carefully when covering government officials during this election period, it must have had the president in mind.
The warning from the broadcast regulator was that government officials aligned to ruling parties, in this case the ANC and the DA where it governs, are in a position to use their incumbency to advance their electoral prospects.
In this year’s election campaign, Zuma did that without flinching.