The ANC... Brand on the run

David Bullard wonders if even hardened party loyalists are not beginning to have their doubts

Very basic rules apply when it comes to matters of brand loyalty. Assuming the product or service being offered is of acceptable quality it's simply a matter of maintaining a good relationship with the customer or client. For example, a good friend of mine tells me she wouldn't dream of moving her account from a certain bank, even if she was offered an account at another bank with reduced banking charges. That's because she feels her personal banker goes the extra mile for her.

Admittedly she pays for the service but with one phone call she can move money, get a bridging loan, organise foreign currency and pay her bills. No forms to fill in, no bureaucracy....just a friendly voice at the other end of the phone and the job done. The same applies to her favourite hotel and her favourite airline. Both know she travels frequently on business and entertains in the hotel's restaurants and both treat her as a valued customer.

When she checks in for a flight she is greeted by name and her slightly eccentric requests are met with a "can do" attitude. When she arrives at the front desk of her favourite global hotel group something obviously pops up on the computer to alert them and she is treated like royalty, or that is her perception. What this means is that she is fiercely brand loyal to her bank, her airline and her hotel.

She talks enthusiastically about them to her friends (the best possible advert) and, more importantly, she continues to spend her money with all three. As she says of her bank, it would take a lot more than a 50% reduction in bank charges to risk moving her account to a new bank.

Brand loyalty is just as important with a political party and the ANC has been blessed for the past 18 years because it is seen by many of its supporters as the party of freedom. A fellow passenger once told me at George Airport that he enjoyed my acerbic columns and thought my criticism of the ruling party was fair. But this was the party that had liberated his family from apartheid and he could never imagine voting for anyone else. That is serious brand loyalty.

But that was a few years ago now and I wonder whether the ANC brand loyalty isn't beginning to pall. As the famous saying goes, you can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. The reaction among some of the party loyalists I have spoken to  with regard to the release of convicted former police commissioner Jackie Selebi on parole for medical reasons has been uniformly cynical.

Shabir Shaik is a walking medical miracle worthy of the New Testament. Like the Lockerbie bomber we were assured he was within a few months of death when he was released very early in his prison sentence on medical parole. Since then he has made a startling recovery thanks to Goji berries. He can now play golf, smoke cigars and swear at journalists......all features of what many would regard as a full and healthy life.

Tony (Sweaty hands) Yengeni, the Maserati driving arms deal fraudster and former ANC whip, was carried aloft from prison by ANC parliamentarians after serving an absurdly small portion of his sentence, reportedly in relative luxury and with special catering arrangements to ensure minimal hardship.

So it should come as no surprise that SA's very own gross national product, the reptilian Jackie Selebi, should also have been issued with a ‘get out of jail free' card after such a short time in the clink. Or rather, in the clink hospital.

Those of you with a good memory will remember that Selebi was incredibly cocky throughout his trial. Not only was he our police commissioner, he was also head of Interpol and he clearly imagined he was much too powerful to take a fall. Even during his appeal process he exuded a confidence that suggested he was far too well connected politically to go to prison. It was only when his appeal failed that he very suddenly became seriously ill. On the very day the court handed down its verdict in fact.

So is it any surprise that even party loyalists have begun to wonder if their beloved ANC aren't taking them for complete idiots? The parade of furrowed browed "experts" trotted out to assure us that Selebi is a terribly sick man remains unconvincing. The ANC's reputation for telling massive porkies means that virtually everything they say these days has to be taken with a bulldozer full of salt. It may well be that Selebi is genuinely ill but that is no longer relevant because fewer and fewer people trust what the ANC say.

It's not just the refusal on the part of the ANC to punish loyal cadres for criminal offences that is dragging the brand value of the ANC down. It's things like the Limpopo text book fiasco and the grotesque claims from our minister for basic education that she should be awarded 8/10 for her efforts despite all evidence to the contrary. Even the most loyal ANC supporter must be wondering how on earth this absurd woman manages to hang on to her job.

Earlier this week President Zuma was interviewed on Talk Radio 702 by the straight talking Redi Thlabi. It was a dismal performance for a man seeking re-election as President. As I commented on Twitter, based on this interview you wouldn't trust the man to run a spaza shop, let alone a country. And I suspect a growing number of ANC supporters are also  beginning to get that message. The next election may well be the last in which the ANC can rely on their brand value as a liberation party.

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