South Africa

Battleground Gauteng: The race for SA’s big prize in 2014

By Ranjeni Munusamy 6 June 2013

A spat between the African National Congress and Democratic Alliance over the latter’s advertising campaign on cellular airtime vouchers is but an indication of the intensive electoral battles coming as the two parties fight for control of South Africa’s richest province. The ANC leadership in Gauteng is on the back foot after being in the losing camp at the Mangaung conference but still believe they can increase their percentage of votes in the province. The DA wants to take control of Gauteng, its strongest area of support after the Western Cape. Depending how the chips fall in both parties, it could be a showdown between Candidate Maimane and Candidate Mashatile for premiership of SA’s most powerful province. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

It’s the psychological factor rather than the numbers that make Gauteng the big prize in the 2014 national elections. Of course the province is populous and therefore its election results would impact on the national figures. But as the hub of South Africa’s economic activity, the political party which controls Gauteng controls the place where decisions, deals and money are made. Gauteng also includes South Africa’s capital and seat of government, its gateway to the world in the form of OR Tambo International Airport and some of the country’s most historic sites.

The ANC is desperate to hold on to Gauteng, and the DA is just as desperate to make it the second province where it rules. The DA is concentrating much of its early campaigning and targeted electioneering in Gauteng. The official opposition knows that if it can take the province away from the ruling party, it will break through the psychological barrier that the ANC will rule in perpetuity, and can then solidify its aspirations to be the governing party in South Africa in 2019.

The DA is galvanised by its increased percentage share of the vote in Gauteng – in the 2009 national elections the DA got 21.86% of the vote and in the 2011 municipal elections, it received 33.04%. The ANC went down from 64.04% in 2009 to 60.21% in 2011.

The battle for Gauteng became apparent this week when the ANC in the province flew into a fit after discovering that the DA was advertising messages on MTN airtime vouchers being sold at spaza shops in townships and informal settlements. The ANC called on MTN to dissociate itself from political party advertising, but denied that it had called on its members to boycott the cellular network provider. It has now emerged that the advertising space on the vouchers were sold by a third-party distributor, Blue Label Telecoms, and the DA advertising campaign was featured across the top three cellular network providers, not just MTN.

DA national spokesman Mmusi Maimane said the airtime vouchers enabled the party to “connect with and inform hundreds of thousands of people about our history and our policies”.

“As part of our ‘Know Your DA’ campaign, we have distributed more than 2.5 million DA-branded airtime vouchers. We have every right to utilise this platform to spread our campaign message that we fought against Apartheid,” Maimane said. “In addition to the airtime vouchers, we have distributed 1.6 million of 2.9 million pamphlets and we’ve had one-on-one conversations with nearly 490,000 South Africans. In Gauteng alone, we have visited some 250,000 households.”

DA leader Helen Zille’s chief of staff Geordin Hill-Lewis says the focus on Gauteng in the airtime voucher campaign and others is because this is where the party has the best chance of winning the next election. Outside the Western Cape, it is where the DA has the greatest level of support, and one of the areas the ANC shed votes in the last elections.

Hill-Lewis said the DA was also aware that the ANC in Gauteng was still reeling from being on the losing side at the ruling party’s national conference in Mangaung last December, and that the leadership in the province was divided.

The Sunday Times reported that former Gauteng MEC Humphrey Mmemezi warned the last ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting about the provincial leadership’s “hatred” of President Jacob Zuma. Mmemezi apparently wanted the provincial executive committee disbanded because of their campaign against Zuma in the lead up to the Mangaung conference. While Mmemezi’s proposal was not taken seriously, there is reportedly distrust of the Gauteng leadership and national leaders will make direct contact with voters as they did not believe the province’s leaders would campaign for Zuma in 2014.

It is also understood that SA Communist Party leaders in Gauteng were lobbying for the ANC provincial conference, scheduled for after the elections next year, to be brought forward. They apparently wanted provincial chairman Paul Mashatile to be voted out of his position before the national elections. However, the ANC NEC has decided that no conferences will be held until after the elections; a bitter leadership battle would damage the campaign badly.

Mashatile and Gauteng premier Nomvula Mokonyane faced off in the last provincial conference, at which Mashatile was victorious. Mokonyane was elected onto the ANC NEC in Mangaung and is believed to have set her ambitions beyond the province after the 2014 elections. As a member of the NEC, she is unlikely to challenge for leadership of the province again. Mashatile, one of the leaders of the Forces of Change campaign which wanted Zuma replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe at Mangaung, is no longer a directly elected member of the NEC but attends as an ex-officio member by virtue of his position as provincial chairman of Gauteng.

The process of drawing up election lists, for candidates to the provincial and national legislatures, will begin in the next two months. With Mokonyane destined for the national cabinet, it would make sense for Mashatile, now the Arts and Culture Minister in Zuma’s Cabinet, to head the provincial list as he remains a popular leader in the province. However, the position of provincial premiers, as with the national Cabinet, is the prerogative of the president. If there is any lingering resentment against Mashatile for his role pre-Mangaung, he could very well end up in neither Cabinet.

But such a move would be short-sighted, as the ANC has to marshal all its resources to maintain control of Gauteng. It is particularly vulnerable amongst the black middle class, where there is some level of disenchantment with the ruling party due to the string of scandals in government. The DA is trying to capture these disenchanted ANC voters, which is why it is driving the Know Your DA campaign specifically in townships to show its credentials at opposing Apartheid.

The DA is also running a Blue Blitz campaign to improve its visibility in communities and to recruit volunteers for its door-to-door campaigns. But at the moment there is uncertainty as to who will be the DA’s candidate for premier of Gauteng. Maimane, previously the DA’s candidate for mayor of Johannesburg, is a front-runner and will be most appealing to the black middle class. However, the DA’s leader in Gauteng John Moody will probably feel entitled to the position as he is doing the heavy lifting in the province. Also in the running will be the DA’s caucus leader in the provincial legislature, Jack Bloom.

Hill-Lewis says the DA electoral college will decide who would be the face of their campaign in Gauteng, and unlike the ANC practice of revealing the name of the premier candidate after the elections, the DA will want voters to know who they are voting for.

ANC head of communications in Gauteng, Nkenke Kekana, says the ruling party cannot be arrogant and say there is no contest from the DA in the province. He says despite reports to the contrary, the ANC in the province is politically stable and is “gunning for an increased majority in 2014”.

“Mangaung is behind us; I don’t believe there is a hangover,” Kekana said.

He said a provincial elections task team was looking at ways to attract new voters and consolidate the ANC base in its strongholds. With regard to the black middle class, Kekana believes the “Know Your DA” campaign has failed to make a significant impact. The DA is “still seen as a white party and is struggling to make itself relevant in the townships”, he said.

“During the campaign, we will remind the black middle class where we come from and where we are today. We will acknowledge that there are weaknesses but the answer lies in the ANC and no one else,” Kekana said.

But the ANC will have tough time navigating the string of scandals of the current administration, especially when trying to woo the middle class. The line from the party, however, is that it is through transparency of government that there is a perception of a greater incidence of corruption and scandal.

The area likely to be the biggest election battleground in Gauteng is Soweto, where the evidence of delivery of the ANC government is most visible but where the DA is working all out to secure support.

Kekana says much has been done by the ANC to improve the quality of life in Soweto over the past 20 years. “Our message will be: compare Soweto as it was 20 years ago to what it looks like now. There has been real and visible change to people’s lives.”

But the DA’s Hill-Lewis says while there ANC has achievements in areas like Soweto, there are still major problems in education, housing delivery and the quality of housing, which are causing dissatisfaction amongst residents.

Ultimately it will come down to which party puts up the better election effort. Both will be looking to present a hearts-and-minds campaign with a heady mix of election promises and highlighting the flaws of the other party. If the airtime voucher campaign is anything to go by, messages will be coming thick and fast on every possible medium, and voters will have to distinguish between the hype and truth.

The time to start paying attention is now. The information avalanche is coming. DM

Photo: Paul Mashatile, Minister of Arts and Culture, is taken through an African art exhibition called “Made in Africa – Towards Cultural Liberation” in Johannesburg on Africa Day, Friday, 25 May 2012. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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