2014: A universe altered
It says much about the South African way of life that big political events happen so often on weekends. It speaks to the mass participation of our politics, and the way ordinary people are supposed to be a part of it all. Of course, that really becomes ordinary people sitting and watching political leaders, but that’s a more complicated piece for another day. At the end of a shortish, slightly boring election campaign, the final rallies of the two big parties - the ANC and the DA - are quite revealing about the make-up of these bodies, and their strategies. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
If you were to strip away all the guff spoken about the Economic Freedom Fighters and Julius Malema, the real story of this election is actually the growth of the DA. (That said, one can still happily speculate whether the EFF will break 10% and hold the balance of power in a province: no, and no, in my opinion, although I increasingly seem to stand alone in this.) I say the DA is the major story knowing that Blade Nzimande is going to accuse me of all sorts of white minority crap at some point. (Nzimande’s insults are something I can live with.)
Whenever people talk about opinion polls, and tracking polls, it is the DA that has shown real growth, while the ANC has dropped just slightly. This was properly illustrated at its rally. It was a big event. The Dome at Northgate was not quite full, but certainly nearly. And while some in the Alliance will no doubt claim that it’s an “elitist” venue in the suburbs, it’s actually not a bad choice. For many of the DA’s members, a trip to the suburbs is part of the package of aspiration that the DA is attempting to harness. There is a reason why Mmusi Maimane talks about his Meadowlands upbringing all the time: he’s saying, ‘You too can be like me; just be a part of this blue brigade.’ In fact, as the ANC’s leaders appear to have growing ‘social distance’ from their members, you could argue it’s the ANC that has to ‘look’ poorer with its choice of venue, while the DA does not.
The other point to make is that the DA has changed quite starkly over the last five years.
Bluntly, it’s black.
Really. A black party. Those in the ANC will claim that it’s not, and that somehow some of the black leaders involved are not really black. One member even tried to convince me that he judges whether a party is black or white by its leader. But does that mean, then, that the ANC is a Zulu party? And the ANC has white leaders within it, so is it then white?
Towering over the entire DA event, as he has from every street pole ever erected in Gauteng, stood that Maimane character. He was quite literally everywhere. Almost every filmed insert featured him (one of them with blue boxing gloves, punching the camera, “fighting” for jobs), he was the MC, he gave one of the big speeches; he was, almost, the entire rally.
That’s not to downplay Helen Zille’s role, or the reception she received, but it’s to point out that an election campaign does allow you to predict movements within a party after that election. In other words, Maimane is probably going to go to Parliament. And, perhaps, become an MP and possibly leader of the DA’s caucus in one move. Either way, if I were the leader of the ANC caucus in the City of Joburg, I’d look forward to a new opponent.
So, then, it was no surprise that Maimane was the person the ANC tried to ridicule at its rally. As is usual at these things, it’s up to the leaders of the “supporting organisations” to play hatchet-man, and attack the opposition. Maimane got a direct mention. The leader of the ANC Youth League’s task team, Mzwandile Masina (and that’s a different position to leader of the League, mind; it hasn’t had a conference since a Young Lion started his own pride) said it was only because of the ANC that the “Barack Obama of Gauteng” could marry a white woman and live openly without prejudice.
Inimitable Blade Nzimande, predictably, also went on the tirade that the DA was “a party of white privilege, that hires labour brokers for black leaders”. He is usually the designated man to attack the DA, and it’s certainly a role he’s comfortable with. But more interesting is the fact that the EFF got so much attention as well. The amount of airtime given to the ANC’s opponents at these rallies has steadily increased over the last five years. That’s surely an indication of the leadership's growing concern with the ascent of the Young Lion.
And then there is JZ. Nothing was left to chance. As he walked in and was announced, a massive military drum soundtrack came out of the speakers. It was perhaps more fitting for a party’s Commander-in-Chief than a party president in a democracy, but it served its purpose. Just in case there was any, you know, distracting noise from the cheap seats.
It wasn’t necessary. The place erupted. It was full of cheers, shouts, and screams for Msholozi. While there may well be a Mail & Guardian special soon on how it was done, for the moment, Mr President, you have well and truly laid that ghost to rest.
It would be completely unfair to even mention this rally without pointing out how the ANC is simply unbeatable on size, scale, and organisation. It is huge. We know that, obviously. But it’s one thing to know membership and voting figures. It’s quite another to feel it in a packed FNB Stadium. I’ve seen the Springboks play there (and lose to New Zealand). I’ve seen U2 play there (and just be absolutely bloody brilliant), but no one rocks the place like the ANC does.
It goes without saying that the same cannot be said for Zuma’s set-piece speeches. How you say it is not nearly as important as what you say. And really, how can the ANC give such a great show, take all the time and effort, and then spend an hour trotting out boring content? Why? (And it’s not just Zuma; Mbeki was the same.)
Come now; it’s an election campaign. Don’t do the long set-piece speech. Shorter can be better. If the alliance leaders get five minutes, give Zuma twenty. It’s well long enough. And for goodness sake, get a good speech-writer in. We are becoming more of a television nation. If someone just dropped five good sound-bytes into the speech, most people would hear only those and think it was a good speech. It’s simply good politics. It’s bad politics to leave it as it is.
The ANC is on a different scale to the DA. That is what you would expect. The voting figures on Wednesday will reflect that. But, despite all the gnashing of teeth from some quarters that nothing is changing in South Africa, change is happening. That is surely the lesson to take home. And ponder. DM
Photo: Julius Malema (C) leader of the South African Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party addresses supporters in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, South Africa, 04 May 2014, during his party's final pre-election rally. South Africa is to hold its 5th general election since the end of Apartheid on 07 May 2014. EPA/STR; South African President Jacob Zuma gestures as he speaks during the African National Congress (ANC) final mass election rally in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 04 May 2014. South Africa is to hold its 5th general election since the end of Apartheid on 07 May 2014. EPA/IHSAAN HAFFEJEE; Democratic Alliance (DA) Western Cape Premier and party leader Helen Zille speaks to supporters during the final mass election rally at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg, South Africa, 03 May 2014. Leaders of the party pledged to put an end to corruption perpetuated by the current ANC led government if voted into power. South Africa is to hold its 5th general election since the end of Apartheid on 07 May 2014. EPA/IHSAAN HAFFEJEE.