Despite grim news last week that South Africa had fallen into a technical recession, President Cyril Ramaphosa laced up his trainers and donned his tracksuit for the now famous Ramaphosa Walk in Durban on Saturday. Ramaphosa’s walk became popular when he took over office at the start of the year, walking with scores of people in Cape Town, and later elsewhere. Leon Lestrade/African News Agency (ANA )
Opinion - There have been mixed reactions to a visit of ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa to KwaZulu-Natal this weekend.

His visit follows a pandemonium that erupted throughout the corners of the country after the release of data showing that South Africa’s economy 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 Ramaphosa accompanied by provincial chairperson Sihle Zikalala, provincial and regional leadership together with the ANCYL provincial leadership.

Despite heavy rain, a positive mood prevailed 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 the mainstream media that the province is former president Jacob Zuma’s stronghold - and a no-go area for Ramaphosa. This is what Zikalala 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 the recession?

It should be remembered that at that time South Africa had officially slipped into recession for the first time in 17years. Here in KwaZulu-Natal, the manufacturing sector was severely affected with 117000 jobs lost in the first quarter of 2009.

It was also still turbulent times as it was months after the trial of Zuma and the recall of Thabo Mbeki as the country’s president.

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

During that period, Dr Zweli Mkhize was the ANC provincial chairperson and premier. Willies Mchunu was ANC provincial deputy chairperson 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 this province 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 guide against the use of valuable time and energy on highlighting 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, the newly-elected provincial executive committee (PEC) under the leadership of Zikalala, his deputy Mike Mabuyakhulu, provincial secretary Mdumiseni Ntuli and spokesperson Nomagugu Simelane has 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 programme flowing from Luthuli House. If packaged correctly and sustained, the Thuma Mina Campaign has a potential of improving the national mood and strengthening the unity and cohesion of ANC members and the public at large.

Back in 2009 during recession, the ANC leadership nationally and provincially observed that it was building an ANC-led government in a rather challenging environment where the jaws of the recession had begun to inflict a serious crunch on 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 the KwaZulu-Natal 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 governing party.

Firstly, the need to prioritise conservation of resources and shifting of budgets to ensure delivery of services was identified.

Secondly, efforts should be made to eliminate wastage in the government system by adopting an integrated approach wherein 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 programme of action for the branches that was closely aligned to the service delivery programmes 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.

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 programme 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 the ANC-led government deliver the services which also deepens the faith of the people in the ANC. Reflecting on the past years there is no shadow of a doubt that KwaZulu-Natal 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.

This is so, because within the short space of time, the PEC through its words and action has turned an atmosphere of despair into bubbling feelings of optimism.

Sibiya is the head of content and knowledge management, KZN Provincial Government Communications. He writes in his personal capacity. 

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