ANC top brass led by President Cyril Ramaphosa held a cake-cutting ceremony at the party’s birthday celebrations at Galeshewe Mayibuye Multi-Purpose Centre in Kimberley. The writer wonders how these leaders sleep at night, knowing the state of the nation. Picture: Danie van der Lith
Yesterday the ruling party, the ANC, was holding a rally in Kimberley celebrating its 108 years.

This celebration, which is usually accompanied by a jovial mood of song and dance by party leaders, members and supporters, happens during a time when the country has been plunged into several crises of epidemic proportions. Can the ANC really afford to celebrate? Can it afford to pop Champagne during such difficult times faced by the country?

Poverty levels are accelerating, inequality is deepening, unemployment levels have reached the highest percentage of 29.1% in the last quarter of 2019, the highest recorded by Statistics SA since 2008, with 9.6 million South Africans currently unemployed, 8.6 million of these being black.

The economy is battling to recover from a technical recession, with the country constantly facing a threat of being given junk status by rating agencies.

One of the major crises facing the country is the power utility Eskom, which has struggled to keep the lights on for the better part of 2019.

Moody’s, one of the rating agencies, referred to load shedding as one of South Africa’s “persistent economic weaknesses” combined with lacklustre private sector demand. It relates to both household spending and investment, and the detrimental impact of widespread power outages on the manufacturing and mining sectors.

The impact of power outages has been devastatingly felt, not only by big business, but also, even worse, by small businesses which mostly cannot afford generators and are forced to close during outages.

Ordinary households find themselves throwing away food that gets spoilt in their fridges.

Addressing the media on the purpose of the ANC January 8 rally, the secretary-general, Ace Magashule, said, “The ANC will use its rally to inspire hope at a time of unemployment and inequality.”

Magashule did not, however, say how the party will do this. He was further quoted as saying, “We just want to say to South Africans that the world over, globally, there are those challenges of unemployment, the challenges of poverty - it’s not just a South Africa thing.”

Who can forget a number of shocking statements made by Baleka Mbete, one of the top leaders of the ANC, in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan in 2019 in London? When Hasan specifically asked Mbete about the World Bank report that says South Africa today is the most unequal nation on earth, and that “that’s a pretty embarrassing title for a country to hold”, Mbete retorted “that is harsh and an exaggeration”, and that “the World Bank is not God, just because they have said so ” She declared that most of the things mentioned in the interview, including the high rate of crime in the country, was news to her.

Marie Antoinette, an 18th century French queen, who, upon learning that the peasants had no bread, said “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”, loosely translated, “Let them eat cake”.

This phrase is usually used in the context of portraying a leader’s disregard for the situation and circumstances of those under their governance and rule, while they are enjoying a life of luxury and opulence.

In 2019, the country saw an increasing, unabated number of femicide, women and children being raped and brutally murdered. South Africans were left horrified by the murder of 19-year-old UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana by a Post Office employee, Luyanda Botha. Her death, together with many others, sparked “national shutdown” protests by women across the country. The nation continues to be in distress, waking up to daily news of young women and small children being kidnapped, raped and killed.

What is there to celebrate amid such national distress?

As a citizen I wonder, and I would like to believe that many citizens feel the same way. ANC leaders are insensitive and display a non-caring attitude and a total disregard to the dire circumstances of the country and its citizens. This is not the time for celebration and parties. By spending money on holding such a rally, it shows they simply do not care. They are showing us the middle finger.

One would have expected President Cyril Ramaphosa to show some leadership by urging his fellow ANC leaders to break away from tradition, and consider not having such celebrations this year. That is what caring leaders do.

When Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng was appointed the vice-chancellor of UCT in 2018, she led by example when she requested that the R5million that was for the inauguration ceremony be used towards paying outstanding fees of students who completed their degrees from 2015 to 2017 but could not graduate due to their debts with the university.

Phakeng had found that R16m was needed to assist the 100 students who owed the university fees since 2010, and she could raise R5m of this R16m by not having the function.

It was the least sacrifice she could make, and goodwill she could contribute as a leader.

She said in an interview, “I thought I can sleep better with myself if my entrance into office is done in a way that communicates who I am.

“Think about it, if you are a mother and have children, you would not throw a party with one of your children’s school fees not paid. It is a similar principle for me.”

Ramaphosa is reported to have retrenched 22 of the 46 workers on one of his farms in Ntaba Nyoni, Badplaas, Mpumalanga, in October 2019. According to reports, the president, as the employer, went and delivered the news personally to the workers who were left devastated since it was approaching the festive season and they were faced with a bleak future of not being able to feed their children.

One of the workers, Aaron Mokoena, said, “You know the president came himself. He told us all that we are going to be retrenched, and that was a shock as names were called. For me it’s hard because there are 11 people who depend on me. It was very hard to go home and tell my family that I am jobless.”

Usually at the ANC January 8 rallies, we see pictures of the top leadership cutting a huge cake, and popping Champagne to open the festivities, which also have various artists entertaining the crowds gathered in the stadiums.

One can just imagine the bitter taste that will be left with Aaron Mokoena and his fellow retrenched colleagues.

I personally, together with many South Africans, will be saddened by such images.

One also has to wonder how do the president, the top leadership of the ANC and their general membership sleep at night, knowing the true state of the nation?

Considering the lie that the nation was told by the president - that there would not be power cuts during the festive period until January 13, 2020, but we have seen power cuts already - will Kimberley be spared power cuts?

Perhaps Eskom should just spare us this unnecessary and undesired jubilation by switching off the lights throughout the country this weekend.

* Molatoli is director at Bamboo Seeds Communications.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.