Writing the 2019 election: On manifestos and milquetoast – and a hat tip to FW de Klerk

By Ismail Lagardien 13 January 2019

Julius Malema (Photo: Leila Dougan) / Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane, December 2018 (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier) / African National Congress President Cyril Ramaphosa, 12 January 2019. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

Julius Malema’s face will adorn every piece of election propaganda – across the country – for national and provincial leadership positions. This imitates the personality cult of totalitarian and despotic leaders across time. As has become customary, the EFF remains somewhat consistent with the practices of the Italian fascists who presented Benito Mussolini’s face across all platforms.

While smallanyana political parties are springing up around the country, “The Big Three” — the ANC, EFF and DA — are revving up their propaganda machinery, and presenting their manifestos for the 2019 election. It has, so far, been rather underwhelming, with the slight caveat that the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa seems to be making progress in KwaZulu-Natal — the stronghold of Jacob Zuma.

It is probably unfair to other small parties to call the EFF a “big” party. In the last election, the toddling EFF received a mere 6% of the vote. That is a fact, and no amount, of self-aggrandisement, can change that. The EFF has been the loudest voice in South African politics over the past two years. This can probably be explained by the fact that as an infant party, it gets a lot of media coverage and public attention because everyone fears it may injure itself. At least one psychologist who studies early childhood development has concluded that babies who cry the loudest and most persistently require a lot of attention, lest they suffer brain damage.

Nonetheless, the main players in South African politics are trying to convince people to vote for them. Actually, the DA has expended a lot of energy on why people should NOT vote for the ANC. Both the ANC and DA seem to be catatonic. The EFF is the only one promising fireworks, but for now, it, too, seems to be playing with water-drenched matches. Since we’re on the topic of the EFF, we might as well start with it.

EFF is listening with a hat tip to FW de Klerk

The EFF has been on the road for several weeks now, meeting groups of civil society — from business, finance to arts and culture bodies — listening and explaining why people should vote for it. This is, in principle, a good tactic, but we will have to wait and see whether this will, actually, amount to votes. As for the EFF’s election manifesto, the party’s leader, Julius Malema confirmed in December 2018 that the public would have to wait until 2 February — on the 29th anniversary of former president FW de Klerk’s epochal speech of 1990 — for that to be released to the public.

In the meantime, the EFF has been noticeably quiet over the past two months, with only its customary ambulance-chasing politicking which sees it rush to wherever there is a problem or conflict, act out its basest fantasies as the saviour of the masses, and score propaganda windfalls. If the public is not vigilant, the EFF will claim responsibility for landing InSight on Mars.

What we do know is that the EFF wants to unseat the ANC, either by winning an outright majority or through a coalition, if the ANC gets less than 50% of the vote. We also know that Floyd Shivambu, who called one journalist a “bitch,” physically attacked another journalist, and has yet to answer questions around the collapse of VBS Mutual Bank, could become president of South Africa.

We also know that Malema’s face will adorn every piece of election propaganda material — across the country — for national and provincial leadership positions. This imitates the personality cult of totalitarian and despotic leaders across time. As has become customary, the EFF remains somewhat consistent with the practices of the Italian fascists who presented Benito Mussolini’s face across all platforms with slogans such as Per Lui per l’Italia si! (For him, for Italy, yes!). In its own words, the EFF seeks to establish a “dictatorship of the people” for the “realisation of socialism through people’s power’ and that is “anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-imperialist in its world outlook”. For now, we have to wait for the 29th Anniversary of FW de Klerk’s epochal speech on 2 February to receive the EFF’s election manifesto.

The ANC’s election manifesto same as it ever was

Apart from the tactical outmanoeuvring of “the Zuma faction”, which one of the weekend papers suggested was a “neutralisation of the Zuma cabal”, the ANC’s manifesto launch in KwaZulu Natal was underwhelming. It was, also, a replay of the stadium-politics that gained momentum after the first group of prisoners were released from Robben Island in 1989. These stadium gatherings have, since, increasingly resembled grotesque spectacles with end-of-empire-type displays of crass material excess.

As for the actual election manifesto, Cyril Ramaphosa drew on indigenous African history (the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Isandlwana); on the party’s own history (KwaZulu-Natal as birthplace of the ANC’s first president-general, Albert Luthuli), and on the ANC’s claims of non-racialism, with the reference to the 125th anniversary of the formation of the Natal Indian Congress. Without traducing Isandlwana or Luthuli, Ramaphosa’s speech at the launch of the 2019 election manifesto at the Moses Mabhida Stadium provided nothing refreshing. It was, well, rather tedious, predictable if not completely coma-inducing.

Delivered, as it was on the 107th anniversary of the ANC’s founding, if you changed the dates it could have been a speech delivered at any of the previous 10 anniversaries — mutatis mutandis. It was, in short, the same as it ever was, with the de rigueur appeal for a collective approach to the common good. The one thing that is clear about the ANC manifesto is that, for now, you know what you’re going to get. With the EFF — agreeable or disagreeable one may find them — you know that there will be shandies. They want to take us back to the Bolshevik Revolution, via Pol Pot’s Year Zero, using Mussolini’s playbook, and if you disagree with them you’re either racist, counter-revolutionary, or a house-slave.

The ANC in government slipped into a comfort zone at the end of the Thabo Mbeki era. Jacob Zuma took over and played fa-fi with our endowments and future, and Ramaphosa is promising a correction, back to the time when the ANC does exactly what it says on the label. The ANC wants us to follow it in search of the “ideal of a non-racist, non-sexist, free and prosperous South Africa” (here is a probable cause of narcolepsy), and Jessie Duarte’s once-more-with-feeling appeal:

Through our manifesto, we will once again ask for a social contract with our people and the South African people will once again give the ANC an overwhelming mandate because their trust is in the ANC.”

This trust, Ramaphosa said at Moses Mabhida Stadium, would “provide an opportunity to restore our democratic institutions and to return our country to a path of transformation, growth and development… As the ANC, we admit our shortcomings, we accept the criticism of the people and we are hard at work to correct our mistakes. He acknowledged that State Capture and corruption had “weakened” some public institutions, “undermined effective governance” and contributed to the poor performance of our country. He then turned to the stock-in-trade promises of collective responses to the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality. So far, the EFF and ANC have been rather tepid and predictable. Which is usually the DA’s domain.

The DA: Milquetoast and misunderstood

If the ANC manifesto launch has been underwhelming, the DA’s excitement over the past few days has been somewhat disappointing — intellectually. The DA’s election manifesto, such as it is, is nothing earth-shattering, and predictably milquetoast. It is not that there is no value in the DA’s manifesto, it is just that the DA remains stuck at the depot, wondering, it seems, what they’re doing there. Let’s put that another way. Tom Waits might get offended by associating his genius with the DA.

The DA spent much of the past few days criticising the ANC. This is its prerogative, but surely election manifestos and electoral politics is the time to tell voters what you can do for them. Sure, the DA is the opposition, but during the election, it is rather tedious to continue telling voters what it doesn’t like about its opponents. This takes nothing away from the role of “official opposition”. Voters might be forgiven for thinking: We know what you don’t like about the ANC, but what will you do for us?

The DA remains misunderstood. As has been written in this space before, liberalism has become a pejorative term in South Africa, and the party remains (rightly or wrongly) associated with the white minority. The problem with naming a disease is that the name sticks, never mind the prognosis.

All told, then, we have to wait for the EFF to give a hat tip to FW de Klerk — by accident or design — on 2 February. For the ANC the song remains the same — with the necessary changes. Or, as Duarte suggests, give us your support (again), as you have in the past because, well, you supported us before that. The DA appears to be missing a great opportunity to tell the country what it will do and how it will untangle the mess left by Zuma and the ANC in government. As for the government, just by the way, the Zondo Commission and the restructuring of state departments and agencies are underway. For once, we may separate the ANC from the state — if only because the state is not running for re-election, the ANC is. The DA would do well to focus on that.

What about the smallanyana parties of Patricia de Lille, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and Jimmy Manyi? These are little riddles wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. We can look at them in greater detail next week, when everyone actually returns to work. DM


Want to watch Richard Poplak’s audition for SA’s Got Talent?

Who doesn’t? Alas, it was removed by the host site for prolific swearing*... Now that we’ve got your attention, we thought we’d take the opportunity to talk to you about the small matter of book burning and freedom of speech.

Since its release, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, has sparked numerous fascist-like behavior from certain members of the public (and the State). There have been planned book burnings, disrupted launches and Ace Magashule has openly called him a liar. And just to say thanks, a R10m defamation suit has been lodged against the author.

Pieter-Louis Myburgh is our latest Scorpio Investigative journalist recruit and we’re not going to let him and his crucial book be silenced. When the Cape Town launch was postponed, Maverick Insider stepped in and relocated it to a secure location so that Pieter-Louis’ revelations could be heard by the public. If we’ve learnt one thing over the past ten years it is this: when anyone tries to infringe on our constitutional rights, we have to fight back. Every day, our journalists are uncovering more details and evidence of State Capture and its various reincarnations. The rot is deep and the threats, like this recent one to freedom of speech, are real. You can support the cause by becoming an Insider and help free the speech that can make a difference.

*No video of Richard Poplak auditioning for SA’s Got Talent actually exists. Unless it does and we don’t know about it please send it through.


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