It is Friday morning and a military helicopter is hovering in the sky above Butterworth in the Eastern Cape. President Cyril Ramaphosa is in town to campaign for the governing party. His first stop is Umsobomvu Sports Grounds, where thousands have gathered. There is general excitement in the air. As soon as the presidential motorcade makes its way into the stadium, the crowd breaks into song to welcome him.
Pemmy Majodina, an ANC national executive committee member and the provincial MEC for public works, had kept the crowd entertained before Ramaphosa’s arrival.
Umsobomvu is one of the oldest and most impoverished townships in Butterworth. Empty factories are a sad reminder of what was once an economic hub; they closed when the new dispensation took over in 1994 and joblessness is now rife.
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This is the president’s second rally as he criss-crosses the Eastern Cape. His first stop was in Dimbaza township, outside King William’s Town – also plagued by unemployment.
Duncan village in East London, where the third rally is held, is the worst of the three townships, comprising mainly shacks. Housing is the main concern here, along with joblessness.
Ramaphosa speaks mainly about creating jobs and pledges to reopen factories, to the delight of the crowd. He also promises that jobs will be created and better housing provided.
The ANC supporters are clad in party regalia and wherever the president appears, receive him warmly by singing his campaign song, Phakama Ramaphosa, Ixesha lisondele. Majodina tells the deejay: “This is the only song we’re going to play today.”
Ramaphosa dances and sings along, pointing at his wrist to signal that the time is nearing for the country to take to the polls. He then speaks, telling his audience of how the country has come a long way and that a lot has changed since 1994, when democracy dawned. He also concedes that much still needs to be done.
“When we came into government in 1994, only 8 million people worked in South Africa. Today 16.5 million are employed. In other words, we have created 8.5 million jobs. But there are still [millions] who do not have jobs. That bothers us. Day and night we go everywhere, mobilising investments and trying to attract investors,” he says.
Ramaphosa makes the point that the country has managed to raise R300 billion following an investment conference last year.
“I want part of that money to come to the Eastern Cape and here in Butterworth, so that it can be invested here. What we want to do is create job opportunities ... We are definitely going to do that. We want to reduce the rate of unemployment in the biggest way in the next five years.”
This week’s campaign trail follows on from Ramaphosa’s visit to Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown) last weekend, where he delivered the keynote address on Freedom Day to celebrate 25 years of democracy.
His tight schedule, comprising back-to-back community meetings and rallies, is evident.
Last Saturday, immediately after the Freedom Day celebrations, Ramaphosa was whisked off to Nelson Mandela Bay, where he addressed a rally in Uitenhage and met with professionals in Coega village, outside Port Elizabeth.
The following day, he addressed two rallies – in Mthatha and Mqanduli. He also held a meeting with acting AbaThembu king Azenathi Dalindyebo, possibly about the much-rumoured release of his father, incarcerated King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo – who is currently serving a 12-year sentence for arson, assault, kidnapping and defeating the ends of justice.
While on the campaign trail in Butterworth, Ramaphosa said he was giving serious consideration to an application recommending a presidential pardon for the king.
“The matter of his majesty the king is under consideration ... I am saying everybody must just cool it and relax because the matter is being considered. It is no longer like before when it was no longer under consideration. Now it is under consideration, and that is where I would like to leave it for now,” Ramaphosa said.
Responding to a group of monarchs who gave him an ultimatum to release Dalindyebo or face a situation where they would tell their subjects not to vote for the ANC, Ramaphosa said he was not working to a deadline, adding: “We don’t know what deadlines are for. We work according to the processes that we must get involved in.”
The province played a critical role in Ramaphosa ascending to the presidency, following a bruising contest with Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Addressing supporters in Butterworth, Ramaphosa said he wanted those in the Amathole region, where the ANC had previously scored 75% of the vote, to target 85% in the upcoming elections.
“I already know which political party is going to win the elections. There is no other political party that has the ability to take this country forward other than the ANC,” said Ramaphosa, to loud applause from supporters.
He said most South Africans had put their trust in the ANC because they could see that the party was renewing itself, was united and was becoming better at what it should do for people. “People can see that the ANC has acknowledged that in the previous years it had made mistakes. But those mistakes have now come to an end. The ANC has gone back to the one we know, which is loved by people and supported all over,” said a confident Ramaphosa.