MAKING THEIR POINT: Delegates campaign during the 53rd ANC conference held at the University of the Free State in Mangaung, Bloemfontein. The entire communication machinery of the party has to be reviewed to be in line with the Mangaung conference resolutions, says the writer. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

I have nothing against the post-Mangaung ANC for having retained Jackson Mthembu and Keith Khoza as their spokesmen. The problem I will have is if the ruling party fails to review its communication strategy. I am referring to a document that outlines how communication in an organisation has to be carried out in a manner that allows it to achieve its set goals. It comprises internal and external communication.

The ruling party has adopted the National Development Plan (NDP) and other progressive recommendations at its Mangaung conference. The NDP is a vision of who the South African nation strives to be by 2030. It seeks to redress South Africa’s triple challenges of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

The implementation part must be followed by awareness programmes to its members. In other words, once the recommendations have been implemented the entire membership and supporters have to be informed – from Luthuli House to a branch at GaMatlala. We cannot wait to hear from the ANC’s January statement, year in and year out, that education is a priority while we don’t see practical programmes that follow.

The high number of pupils who started school in 1994 cannot be accounted for – when their peers reach matric, they must also be a concern to the ruling party. In communications, perception is reality and the way and what the party communicates fuels perceptions.

And I believe if we don’t get the education system right, we will not manage to eradicate poverty in our country, we will not be able to grow the economy and we will not be able to build a more equal society. It simply suggests that the triple challenges will remain because those who lack education cannot function effectively in a modern democracy.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s deputy president, once said that the party is advocating for a pro-poor approach. He told the nation on TV that cadre deployment and a pessimistic attitude towards patronage has contributed significantly to the death of skills in provinces.

Fortunately the NDP emphasises the need for re-skilling the nation to sustain and grow the economy.

The challenge to ANC communicators then becomes how they package the information on its policies and programmes in a manner that gives people hope.

The citizens that the ruling party represents can participate effectively in this young democracy if they are fed the correct information. Indeed, one principle of the South African constitution is the right of the citizens to information.

So the ANC’s communicators cannot afford to deny citizens this right. Remember communicators are there to translate complex issues into simple messages easily grasped by the public. I agree with Blade Nzimande, secretary-general of the SACP, when he says it is the ANC that must communicate its successes.

I know that the health of the ANC depends on allowing everyone within it to express themselves. But that has to be done within the confines of the party structures.

Or else the party risks sending conflicting messages. The party’s integrity committee that saw the resignation of Humphrey Memezi, former MEC for local government and housing in Gauteng, must be seen to be applied to all ANC members without fear or favour.

Now that President Jacob Zuma has sold the NDP to the World Economic Forum in Davos, the party must be hard at work popularising the content of the plan to its members and the public.

In his January 8 statement, Zuma said the government will have to close the communication gap between itself and communities.

He said that by doing so the widespread protests could be avoided.

Addressing the South African Business Community in Switzerland, Zuma said the Census 2011indicated that South Africa is a nation of young people. Just over a third of the population is under the age of 15.

He went on to say the country’s focus as contained in the NDP on improving the quality of education and skills is well placed. This will avoid a situation where members are found wanting, having only heard about the plan and cannot deliberate on it. Remember when Sam Shilowa, former Gauteng premier who has since joined Cope, was asked about his views on HIV/Aids, he said that whatever the president had said, he was in agreement with.

That was during the term of former president Thabo Mbeki who thought he was the ANC and the ANC was him.

Unlike during Mbeki’s term, the new national executive committee members are expected to bring new ideas – otherwise they risk being symbolic members.

They must help create a climate of intellectual debate.

The entire communication machinery of the ANC has to be reviewed to be in line with the Mangaung conference resolutions.

l Noga Kobe heads the publishing unit in the Limpopo Department of Education

and writes in his personal capacity.