In democratic South Africa, political parties communicate their guarantees of service through manifestos. Ramukosi defines a manifesto as being a public declaration of promises to gain the trust of voters (2018). The purpose of this article is to give a historical overview of the election promises made since 1994 by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), so that readers may reflect on the progress made thus far.

Some of the election promises under the Mandela administration included:

  • The introduction of free healthcare for pregnant women and children
  • Reconciliation and advancement of national unity
  • School feeding schemes for children in need
  • Clean water and electricity to communities who previously did not have
  • Generating real economic growth in the country
  • Eradication of rural poverty and improving rural infrastructure and
  • Decent sanitation and housing development (ANC Manifesto, 1994)

Five years later, Thabo Mbeki unveiled an action plan to deliver services to all South Africans. From housing, to free education, to better governance – the ANC focused on the realisation of some of its aspirations (ANC Manifesto, 1999).

The Mbeki administration promised to create more jobs and expand economic opportunities. The goal was to reduce unemployment by a whopping 50% in just 10 years, which unfortunately didn’t happen.

In the 2004 manifesto, the ruling party again made bold proclamations of halving unemployment, but this time omitted a timeline to achieve this.

In this manifesto, the ANC again placed great emphasis on ‘speeding up’ service delivery. Some of the repeat promises included: creating housing on well located land, in order to reduce the number of people who find themselves homeless; and providing competent education, by ensuring that all schools in South Africa have adequate buildings, electricity and proper sanitation (ANC Manifesto, 1999 & 2004).

Combating crime and corruption was also on the ANC’s to-do-list, with Mbeki noting that the ANC would have to tackle underlying causes, such as poverty and inequality. The ANC also committed itself to promoting harmony in Africa by strengthening intercontinental ties (ANC Manifesto, 2004)

When Jacob Zuma came into power in 2009, his mandate was to accelerate economic growth. He promoted working in unity in order to achieve the government’s objectives. The 2009 ANC manifesto formed its promises in order to address the major challenges faced by South Africa, namely: poverty, unemployment, rural marginalisation, and inequality.

The following promises were made by the ANC government in their 2009 manifesto:

  • To produce sustainable livelihoods and create decent jobs through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP)
  • The introduction of National Health Insurance (NHI) Phase 1
  • To prioritise adequate education and training systems
  • To prioritise rural development in order to fight unemployment and
  • Building safer communities by reducing corruption and crime

In meeting these objectives, the ANC pledged to “work with local municipalities to ensure better implementation of free basic services to the marginalized and poor by 2014” (ANC manifesto, 2009: 3). Similarly to the 1999 and 2004 themes, the manifesto aimed to tackle issues of poverty, inequality, and unemployment through job creation.

In the same spirit of democracy and of building a developmental state, the Party’s 2014 manifesto was drafted as a continuation of what was promised in 2009, where it sought to create an inclusive economy that would: “provide better opportunities, quality healthcare, rural community development, reduction of crime & corruption, job creation and providing adequate training” (ANC Manifesto, 2014: 5). The general mandate was to ensure that basic services were delivered effectively and efficiently in addressing past injustices, promoting economic growth, and alleviating poverty.

A major promise made by the government for the next five-year period was to implement phase 2 of the NHI, with the following key focus areas: passing of the NHI bill, establishment of funding, and making necessary adjustments to the legislation. In relation to this 213 clinics and 43 hospitals were to be built and over 870 health facilities in all 11 districts were to undergo major and minor refurbishments in preparation for the NHI (ANC Manifesto, 2014: 40).

In the current year, the ANC prioritised transformation and tackling poverty, unemployment and inequality. It derived its promises from the National Development Plan, with the aim of achieving economic equality. The ANC government promised to accelerate the annual rate of employment by creating 275,000 jobs per year (2019).

Health and education also emerged as major priorities, including the finalisation of the NHI bill, in order to move to phase 3 of implementation, and focusing on access to quality and free education. The party also pledged to accelerate the land reform process in the next five years and to prioritise the settlement of outstanding land claims.