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The intolerable cruelty of broken manifesto promises

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Picture: @MYANC/Twittwer/August 10, 2023 President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC leaders celebrate at the review of its 2019 election manifesto. ‘The 2019 manifesto which the party reviewed this last weekend was an elaborate offering of more than 200 promises’, with only ten out of 102 promises being met to date, the writer says.

By Kim Heller

The notorious American actress Marilyn Monroe once said: “Promises are worse than lies. You don’t just make them believe; you also make them hope.” The ANC’s early year election manifestos had ideological coherence and were filled to the brim with genuine promise for a better tomorrow. But more recently the governing party’s manifestos have deteriorated into incomprehensible illiterate slates of lies shamefully disguised as promises. Broken manifesto promises have now become the ready electoral signature of the ANC.

The early years of ANC governance brought a measure of promise as many basic rights, services, opportunities, and provisions, denied to black South Africans by the brutal apartheid regime, were provided by the new democratically elected ANC government. In his opinion piece this last weekend Mondli Makhanya wrote how in 1994 “Freedom became a tangible product and not just the absence of oppression”.

It was a spring of hope in a land of great expectations. But almost 30 years later both the promise of the ANC and its promises have all but collapsed.

The once-upon-a time liberation movement has increasingly placed self-service and self-enrichment above selfless service and the wellbeing of the people of South Africa. The ANC’s standing among the electorate is in decline as citizens grow more and more wary of the government’s serial broken promises. The wave of hope which was in abundance in 1994 has turned into a vacuum of hopelessness. The expedient politics of promises without performance has become the norm for ANC leaders, particularly the president. This is nothing short of betrayal. US historian Edmund Fuller wrote: “When a man repeats a promise again and again, he means to fail you.”

The party’s spent political capital has seen it left with nothing but the petty cash of cheap never-land promises. There is an intolerable cruelty in the rich, ruthless, and relentless trading of hope by politicians to a desperate citizenry.

The 2019 manifesto which the party reviewed this last weekend was an elaborate offering of more than 200 promises. Of which only a minority have been achieved. On economic transformation, an ambitious 102 promises were made in 2019. Four years later, only ten have been realised. Eighty-six are “work in progress”, a convenient catch phrase for “word undone”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is now trying to hurriedly fast-track delivery on unmet 2019 manifesto promises. It is little more than an election ploy. Ramaphosa, who himself came to power on the haze of fabricated hope is today the undisputed prince of false promises. Such is the political phlegm of a leader with little to offer.

Abraham Lincoln, a much wiser president than Cyril Ramaphosa, once said: “We must not promise what we ought not, lest we be called on to perform what we cannot.”

For Ramaphosa, tangible delivery is largely absent despite rampant promises.

On August 22, 2023, The Daily Investor published an article entitled ‘Ramaphosa’s big energy crisis lie’. In the article, energy analyst Chris Yelland is quoted as saying that Ramaphosa’s bold claims about the ANC resolving the energy crisis and fixing Eskom, are “patently false”.

This after the president recently reassured media that by 2024, the energy crisis will be over. It is a promise that Ramaphosa has made and broken time-after-time since 2015, when he was deputy president responsible for SOEs.

“The government on its own is repairing the state-owned enterprises and the areas that need reforms,” Ramaphosa confidently told journalists.

Yelland said: “This is the type of election talk, with big promises and bold statements, that we have become used to … I would have hoped that the president learned from past experience not to make bold and ill-informed statements.”

Almost thirty years in political office, the ANC has all but collapsed the possibility of a just, free, and equitable post-apartheid South Africa. Freedom moves around in current day South Africa as a shadowy, abandoned, and hopeless figure. Today, we have but a ghost of democracy.

The Rainbow Nation, a manifesto of failure, is nothing but a mirage built on the fragility of promises that never had any prospect to bloom. The tangibles of South Africa today are inequality, joblessness, poverty, and hopelessness. Democratic South Africa is a horizon of skyrocketing unemployment which no supersized Rainbow can hide.

Duma Gqubule, Director of the Centre for Economic Development and Transformation said during a recent SABC interview that “After 29 years of mismanagement, the ANC has still not figured out how to manage the economy and create jobs”.

Despite Ramaphosa’s promises to create a flow of jobs, Gqubule points out that only 21,000 jobs have been created under his administration. He cites how unemployment rose by 2,7 million to 11,9 million over the same period.

It is very telling how Ramaphosa is almost pleading with the electorate to judge the ANC on its delivery since 1994, rather than on the last five years in which his administration has been heavy on promises and very lightweight on delivery.

The ANC’s track record of delivery is at rock bottom. Ramaphosa’s last five years has been a winter of despair. And there is no prospect of a spring of hope. Yet in his address this weekend, Ramaphosa said this was not a time to despair but “to pick up the spear and unite around the common vision”.

“More than ever, the unity of our people is paramount. The 2019 electoral manifesto is the latest plan in a series of consistent manifestos we developed and implemented since 1994 as the ANC, to overcome the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty, and inequality in this country.”

The common purpose that Ramaphosa speaks of has been disfigured by the lack of ANC delivery and accountability. For all its promises, the party has failed dismally to overcome the ugly legacy of apartheid.

Despite their tangible failure, the ANC and president seem upbeat about South Africa as if it is a country in flourish, rather than in flounder. It is as if there are two nations in one country; one in which ANC and its president live and thrive in and another in which ordinary citizens battle to exist.

Psalm 9:10 of the bible speaks of the great rescuer: “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

Those who invested so heavily in manufacturing a messiah in the form of Cyril Ramaphosa must today be bitterly disappointed.

The make-believe of Ramaphosa as the great rescuer is now visible to all once-upon-a time believers and once-upon-a-time deceivers. Ramaphosa and the ANC have proved to be false disciples of democracy and liberation, yet they will continue a preach of promise.

“It’s all make-believe, isn’t it?” said Marilyn Munroe. If we can’t see this after almost 30 years, we don’t deserve the precious gift of freedom.

The Reverend Dr Allan Boesak recently wrote about the state of the ANC as “enveloped by a culture that has put it beyond redemption”.

The party has nothing to offer but empty promises. It’s lack of accountability and scapegoating for its failings is a manifesto of disrespect of its citizens. It is a manifesto deprived of ideas, ideals, and truth. It is hardly the manifesto required for a better tomorrow.

The ANC is falling apart. This hardly means doomsday for democracy in South Africa.

In the prophetic words of Marilyn Munroe, “Sometimes things fall apart, so that better things can fall together.”

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

This article was written exclusively for The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.