President Jacob Zuma on Saturday listed energy, land, local governance and combating corruption as top priorities for the year ahead as he vowed to take the ruling party back to basics at its 103rd anniversary celebrations in Cape Town.
Addressing some 40,000 African National Congress supporters in the Cape Town stadium, Zuma said: “Let us rededicate ourselves to the core values of the ANC, that of self-discipline and service to the people. Let us root out those members and representatives who are corrupt, factional and undermine the unity and cohesion of this great movement.”
The ANC should recommit itself to the principles of the Freedom Charter, it adopted 60 years ago.
He continued and reminded the rally that the preamble of the historic text says the government cannot claim legitimacy unless it is based on “the will of all people”.
Moreover, he said, government must remember that “we are here to serve the people, the people are not here to serve us”.
Local government officials, in particular, should be mindful of this, he said.
The event seemed to mark the start of the ANC’s campaign for next year’s local government elections in which the ANC will again try to reclaim those lost votes that have cost it control of the Western Cape and the city of Cape Town.
“Every single cadre of our movement must know that his or her responsibility is to make local government function better by getting the basics right — wherever they have been deployed,” Zuma said.
He conceded that the state of many municipalities was “cause for serious concern”.
The ANC brought supporters from around the country to the event, hosted on Democratic Alliance turf, by bus and train after a week in which Zuma visited poor communities and told them the province is governed by “the wrong people”.
But if the run-up to the rally was marred by inter-party sniping, the event was a well-mannered affair with minstrels warming the crowd before Zuma entered the stadium around noon and walked around the pitch with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa waving to supporters.
Zuma told them that economic inequality and minority privilege persisted and said the ruling party would use the means at its disposal to eradicate this and to grow the country’s middle class, “particularly the black middle class”.
He also used his speech to call for unity in the fractious governing alliance, terming Cosatu the “major fighting force for the rights of workers” and warning that only employers would benefit from the strife dividing the labour movement.
“We reiterate that the integrity and unity of Cosatu is non-negotiable,” Zuma said and added: “Our members have a revolutionary duty to protect the integrity and the unity of the alliance”.
He devoted much of his annual anniversary statement to corruption, saying there was a misperception that the ANC was largely responsible for it.
“It cannot be, it is another misrepresentation of fact,” he said, insisting that the ANC-led government had been unique in its attempts to root out corruption in the public service.
“We cannot allow the scourge of corruption that eats at the fabric of our society and constrains economic development [to continue].
“The ANC must continue to lead in ending corruption in the state, the private sector and amongst our own members.”
Turning to Eskom’s woes, Zuma said the government remained committed to diversifying into nuclear, gas and renewable energy to complement its coal-based capacity.
“Our country needs creative and pragmatic solutions to guarantee security of supply for our energy needs.”
“The ANC is therefore putting energy as one of our apex priorities.”
He tied the question of land in with the historical overtones of his speech, putting dispossession at the heart of the injustice suffered by African people and said legislation to speed up redistribution will be passed this year.
“We reassert the correctness of the Constitution but admit that usage of the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy went on far too long and had unsatisfactory results,” he said.
“We commit that the land will return to our people and the ANC calls on its government to act with necessary speed to put the legislation in place, this year, to ensure that this happens.”
He added that decisive steps would be taken to prevent further farm evictions and praised the labour movement for improving the plight of agriculture sector workers.
After his speech, several members of the crowd said Zuma’s message about the enduring importance of the Freedom Charter had resonated strongly.
“I think Zuma’s speech was straight forward. He said the councillors must do their work and he spoke well about the Freedom Charter. I think the ANC can use the Freedom Charter as a guideline for the next five years, then they will be doing a lot of good,” said Koos Adams, who travelled to the event by bus from Graaff-Reinet.
Lindelani Mantshimeuli, 20, from Rondebosch said: “I think his speech was really moving because he pointed out some key issues and I particularly liked the fact that they want to bring back the Freedom Charter.”
Earlier, SA Communist Party secretary general Blade Nzimande also cited the text saying “nowhere does it refer to our people as refugees”. This was in reference to an infamous remark by DA leader Helen Zille about economic migrants to the Western Cape.
“The Western Cape and the city of Cape Town continue to be bastions of minority power,” added Nzimande, shortly after a praise singer told the crowd he was tasked to exorcise the spirit of 17th century Dutch coloniser Jan van Riebeek from the stadium.