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South Africa’s oldest political party, the African National Congress (ANC), is embracing the social media revolution like never before. The party is increasingly using Twitter, Facebook and other internet tools to promote itself and communicate with voters. The hashtag #ANC100, marking the party’s recent centenary celebrations, moved through Twitter like wildfire, trending globally.
But social media has, at times, also proved to be ill-fitted, with public slanging matches involving high-profile members becoming commonplace on Facebook and Twitter, from a former president dismissing the importance of Twitter to a provincial secretary accusing ANC members of using Facebook to attack party leadership.
Here are eight ways social media has been influencing one of Africa’s oldest and most famous political parties:
1. ANC wants to modernise
At the party’s centenary celebrations the ANC stressed the need to modernise. And the party’s spokesperson mentioned that “using social media” more effectively would be part of that. This is innovative for a political party that sees its voter power base in the largely offline working classes.
We may very well now see new job descriptions created like “Social Media Manager” in the 100-year-old party. The world knows how Barack Obama shot to the White House on the most innovative social media campaign the world had ever seen many years ago — maybe this is the ANC’s bet for a future prosperous South Africa with high internet penetration?
At the centenary, the ANC and its social media partner Soul Providers pulled out the stops.
@MyANC_ retweeted tweeters that made use of various tags about what was being broadcast on both the eNews Channel and the national broadcaster, the SABC. At the centenary, photos from iPhones were uploaded and people’s questions on Twitter were answered.
Suddenly, it appeared that everyone in South Africa was speaking about the ANC on Twitter. The hashtag #ANC100years became a global trend when it was used in around 0.08% of all tweets on the Sunday afternoon. Although there was criticism across Twitter about the event, the fact remains that a handful of people got the @MyANC_ account into a space where it could be more respected online. It has already trumped the DA’s @DA_News feed (and of course all other opposition parties).
2. Who ‘likes’ the ANC?
The Democratic Alliance (DA), with its predominantly middle class constituency, was the early social media adopter in the South African political landscape. Its leader, Helen Zille, may have amassed 103 000 Twitter followers and 211 000 Facebook “likes”, but President Jacob Zuma is quickly gaining traction with 81 000 Twitter followers in a much shorter time. At this much faster rate of growth, Zuma will most likely beat Zille in the social media stakes. We wait and see. (A point to make though is that Zuma is using a governmental account, not a party political account.)
If even 20% of the ANC’s one-million plus membership was active on Twitter and followed the official ANC Twitter account, it would translate into significant social media power.
ANC members continue to Tweet and use Twitter enthusiastically as a platform for reaching new voters. Key ANC members active on Twitter include Jay Naidoo — Followers: 4 572, Malusi Gigaba — Followers: 4 675, Derek Hanekom – Followers: 4367, Tokyo Sexwale – Followers 5 097 and Fikile Mbalula — followers: 245 (new to the game).
3. Waves of positive media
Brandseye, a South African Online Reputation Management analytics service, noted that the ANC’s centennial celebrations enjoyed 9 839 online conversations which reached over four million users. These online conversations have a monetary value of well over R4-million. Brandseye also notes that most of the comments were “neutral, with themes surrounding Thabo Mbeki [former president] and ritual sacrifices”.
But these online conversations cannot compare with ANCYL President Julius Malema’s high-profile disciplinary hearing in 2011. More than 6200 conversations occurred within a 24-hour period at this time, and were far from positive.
4. Attacking the ‘muncu’ on Facebook
Deputy Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni opened up a fierce debate with ANC Facebook members earlier this week. She attacked ANC members who refused to commit to re-elect Zuma, calling them “muncu” (“stupid” in Zulu). Following a flood of responses from her friends on Facebook, the deputy minister then deleted her entry.
5. ‘Using Facebook to attack leadership’
Limpopo provincial ANC secretary Jacob Lebogo this year accused a member of an anti-Malema league of “using Facebook to attack his leadership”. Lebogo said of the Facebook attack: “Your malicious conduct in public, including on Facebook, is regrettable. We advise that you refrain from such conduct. Failure to amend your conduct will compel us to pursue disciplinary action against you”.
6. ANC Youth League Twitter account hacked
ANC Youth League spokesperson Floyd Shivambu was the unfortunate recipient of a hack-attack on his Twitter account earlier this week. Much to his followers’ surprise, Shivambu ostensibly began tweeting links to weight-loss programmes, a well-known spam hack.
7. Mbeki sceptical of Twitter
South Africa’s former president and pipe connoisseur Thabo Mbeki said this week that he was sceptical about Twitter’s role as a “great conveyor of reliable knowledge”.
“If you want to discuss knowledge which has got to do with the betterment of society I don’t think it is appropriate,” Mbeki said in the aftermath of a speech made at the start of a knowledge conference.
8. Facebook resignation
Phillip Dexter, a founding member of the Congress of the People (COPE) used Facebook as one of the communication tools to announce his resignation. Dexter also announced on Facebook that he would rejoin the ANC: “I have decided to rejoin the ANC, the organisation that I left just more than three years ago. The ANC is the only organisation that can and does advance a programme I can support.”
9. The Hanekom/Zille tête-à-tête
In a tabloid-worthy Twitter row, Deputy Minister of science and technology Derek Hanekom last year challenged DA leader Helen Zille on her supporters’ attendance at a political rally. Zille quickly shot back with the following tweet:
‘Yeka umona [Stop being jealous], Derek. There were 100s of ppl at our march and rally … Sorry ’bout your experience yesterday.’
Hanekom didn’t stop there. Earlier this year, Hanekom posted a tweet directed at Zille, “Why doesn’t Helen Zille celebrate all those who performed well in their exams, not just those from the Western Cape?” Zille responded, “hi Derek. Of course we celebrate the country’s achievements as a whole. That is why we work so hard – to contribute to it!”