Johannesburg - If local government elections were held today, the ANC would be booted out of four of the biggest metros in the country – Joburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth and districts).
That startling analysis comes not from anti-government prophets of doom, but from the party itself in one of the most frank and soul-searching reviews in its history.
Its secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, pulled no punches when he delivered his report on the state of the ANC to its national general council.
He said the party had been in decline since the 2004 elections and had lost significant voter share between 2009 and last year.
“We should therefore consider, if there were local government elections, the metros would have been lost to opposition.”
Mantashe then explained why the metros were so critical to the future well-being of the ANC.
Voter turnout in the ANC’s strongholds had been below that of the opposition – except in Kwazulu-Natal.
Also, the urban voter turnout had grown more than the rural turnout over the preceding 10 years.
“The implications of this are that rural votes weigh less in the national total than they used to,” Mantashe said.
“This should be a matter of real concern to the ANC since the rural masses constitute our solid base, which has continued to hold.”
Mantashe said if the ANC’s share of the vote fell below 60 percent in next year’s local government polls, this would represent a “psychological and political turning point” that would be interpreted as the demise of the party.
Such a realisation would “make us appreciate what the implications of such an outcome could mean for changing (the lives of our) communities”.
The ruling party is taking the threat seriously and promises to roll out its most talented people to revive its flagging support in the metros where it is struggling.
Mantashe called for tight and centralised co-ordination in the deployment of leadership, with greater effort being placed in the four threatened metros, particularly Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
He also said synergy between organisational and government deployees and ministries should contribute to shaping a common message.
In his assessment of the provinces, Mantashe said, membership was susceptible to the politics of patronage and money, in Gauteng in particular.
“This imposes a serious danger to the ANC and the revolution.
“The membership growth is inhibited by poor membership administration data.”
The ANC had a presence in every corner of the province but activism was seasonal and linked to conferences of one kind or another.
Branches were more bureaucratised, with gatekeeping being a major problem.
“These weaknesses make it difficult to lead communities,” Mantashe added.
In Joburg, the drop in electoral support last year posed a threat to the ANC.
Political analyst Professor Tinyiko Maluleke said Mantashe’s report was indicative of reality dawning on the ANC leadership that losing a metro next year might be possible.
“I think it’s a frank and realistic admission on (Mantashe’s) part and I suspect he intends to awaken the ANC and shake it,” he said.
“But also I think he is trying to appeal for better performance elsewhere.
“The reality is dawning even among the fanatical ANC supporters that losing a metro is possible.”
Susan Booysen, another political analyst, said recent opinion polls had shown ANC support was improving in some metros.
She said while it may not be that bad for the party now, it could potentially get worse.
“I think the message is to get the troops out and members going out to work in branches,” she said. “I think (Mantashe) is telling the people here that if they don’t go out to work, they will lose their positions in the metros – that is the motivation.”
President Jacob Zuma also lashed out what he called negative tendencies emerging in the party and deviation from core values.
This included gatekeeping in the branches to prevent others from joining so that those in leadership positions remained firmly in control.