Picture: Itumeleng English / African News Agency (ANA) / Taken January 8, 2023 – ANC supporters attend the ANC 111th birthday celebration in Mangaung in the Free State where the January 8 statement was delivered. The January 8 Statement was first issued in 1972, while the ANC was in exile under the leadership of its then president, Oliver Tambo. The purpose of the statement is to chart and outline the ANC’s programme for the year.
By Sipho Seepe
On January 13 this year, thousands of ANC faithful will gather at the Mbombela Stadium to celebrate the party’s 112th anniversary. Beyond the usual razzmatazz that attends such events, all eyes and ears will be on the party’s national president, Cyril Ramaphosa, as he delivers its January 8 statement. The annual event and the statement set the tone for the party’s political agenda.
The delivery of the January 8 Statement was conceived during the ANC’s years in exile. The statement was a connecting rod for its members, who were scattered across almost every corner of the globe. In doing so, the statement created a sense of community. It also provided an appraisal of the struggle against apartheid colonialism. Members were provided with a review of the state of the balance of forces within and outside the country. This included the identification and performance of what the party described as the motive forces of the struggle against apartheid.
In doing so, it highlighted successes and setbacks that the movement had achieved in the previous year. The statement concluded by providing cadres with a line of march. This enabled ANC members to speak with one voice.
The template of the January 8 Statement remains largely the same and serves also to update members on the commitments directed to the ANC-led government. With the leadership suffering from a serious credibility gap, however, the January 8 Statement is reduced to a meaningless revolutionary-sounding exercise.
Important considerations add weight to this year’s January 8 Statement.
First, this is an election year. Beyond covering the usual assessment of its performance, the ANC statement is expected to set the tone for the party’s election campaign. Since taking over as party president, the “ANC of Ramaphosa” has been in a seemingly irreversible state of decay. Internal debate, which should form the lifeblood of renewal, has declined. Regarding this, Dr Mavuso Msimang contends that “those who seek change by raising voices endure slurs or are met with downright hostility”.
Second, 2024 concludes Ramaphosa’s first term in his capacity as head of state. To that extent, an appraisal of his performance is unavoidable. Arguably, the 2024 national general election is expected to be a referendum on Ramaphosa’s presidency. With a stagnant economy, unprecedented levels of unemployment and the destruction of the middle class, the ANC under Ramaphosa has no good story to tell.
In a provocatively titled opinion piece, Country’s worst president since 1994? (Business Day, February 7, 2023), Duma Gqubule, research associate at the Social Policy Initiative, wrote: “Whichever way one slices the data, Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency has been a disaster for the economy … there were eight out of 10 quarters of declining gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), a measure of investment, before the lockdown at the end of March 2020. In February 2019, the government announced a R100bn infrastructure fund. Four years later it does not contain a cent. Despite four investment summits, where pledges of R1.1 trillion were made, GFCF plunged to 13.1 percent of GDP in 2021 – the lowest since 1946, when the Reserve Bank started collecting statistics – from 16.4 percent in 2017.”
Third, the January 8 Statement comes at a time when the party’s fortunes are precipitously on the decline. The 2019 local government elections were a wake-up call. The party has never been more vulnerable. South African voters sent a clear message to the ANC that it does not own them.
Fourth, the election comes at a time when Ramaphosa has all but proven to be a Trojan horse of white monopoly capital. Under Ramaphosa, the most competent black professionals who resolved Eskom challenges and brought an end to load shedding were targeted and removed. Eskom continues to wreak havoc on the economy.
As Matshela Koko, the utility’s former acting group chief executive pointed out: “Ten million litres of diesel was burned in 2017 in the entire 12 months, compared to 50 million litres of diesel a month under De Ruyter.” Let that sink in.
Ramaphosa’s administration has purportedly reversed all the gains made by his predecessors. The appointment of three white males as acting judges to the Constitutional Court is a case in point. Without impugning the integrity of the said individuals, the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa (PABASA) was dismayed.
“We do register, however, that the appointment of three white males, all at once, sends a chilling and unfortunate message about gender and race issues in our judiciary and our country. The appointment suggests that our three leaders (in all arms of the State), the president, the minister, and the chief justice, all males, and having considered all available personnel, could not find even one able female and black senior practitioner to form part of the three significant acting appointments to the Constitutional Court,” the association said.
Unless they are unashamedly praise singers, black professionals know full well that there is no place for them in the Ramaphosa administration.
Unlike his detractors, Ramaphosa has been consistent regarding where his allegiance lies, and whose interests he serves. Concluding a supposedly successful investment summit in Sandton in October 2018, the president argued forcefully that it was about time that business people were treated like heroes. He went further: “White monopoly capital, and all that … that must end today”.
South African billionaire, Rob Hersov, whose family contributed handsomely to his campaign, remarked: “Ramaphosa is a disgrace. He is a disappointment. He is an absolute embarrassment to this country, and he should immediately resign … that man (Ramaphosa) is a useless, spineless failure … So if I’m to blame, I apologise to all of South Africa, all of Africa and the world for such a disgrace being the president of our country.”
Fifth, the January 8 Statement comes at a time when the president has his back against the proverbial wall, with the Phala Phala scandal hanging over his head. As the party embarks on its election campaign, the Phala Phala scandal will be playing itself out in the courts. In the court of public opinion, Ramaphosa is guilty. As South Africans go to the polls, his parliamentary acolytes will not be there to protect him or the ANC.
As party president, Ramaphosa delivers the January 8 Statement and unveils the party’s election manifesto, members of the ANC should exercise their minds on the question raised by former president Thabo Mbeki regarding the conduct of ANC MPs.
“Are we saying that we suspect or know that he (Ramaphosa) has done something impeachable and therefore decided that we must protect our president at all costs by ensuring that no multi-party committee is formed?”
In expressing his dismay at the conduct of the ANC, Mbeki did not beat about the bush. Writing to the party’s deputy president, Paul Mashatile, he had this to say.
“As you know, the three-person panel appointed by Parliament concerning the Phala Phala matter decided that the comrade President ‘had a case to answer’ with regard to a process of impeachment.
“What should have followed this is that the National Assembly would have appointed a multi-party committee precisely to investigate the matter of whether the comrade President did indeed have a case to answer. The way we voted on December 13, 2022, to block the process of the formation of a multi-party committee communicated the unequivocal statement to the masses … we acted as we did because there is something to hide!”
Having failed to deal with the above pressing concerns, the January 8 Statement is likely to be more about smoke and mirrors. It comes as no surprise that two former presidents have indicated that they are not in a position to campaign for the party they once led.
Prof Sipho Seepe is a higher education and strategy consultant