OP-ED

Writing the 2019 Election: Personalities, time and money prevent the beating of the ANC

By Ismail Lagardien 8 April 2019

Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu at a Media Conference in Johannesburg, August 23, 2018. (Photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

The one chance the small parties have of overturning the ANC’s dominance of South African politics and governance is for them to form electoral coalitions. However, based purely on 2014 election results numbers, even if small parties get together to form electoral coalitions they still have no chance of unseating the ANC.

Beating the ANC is the most prominent thread that runs through the clutter of small parties — the new ones and those that won less than 10% in 2014 — which are scattered over the canvas of electoral politics in these weeks before the 8 May election.

Stepping back from the apparently messy canvas it is clear that everyone wants to beat the ANC and become the next government of South Africa. But they seem to face some hurdles, none one of which has to do with big-picture issues, but with the apparently insurmountable obstacles of the personality cult of South African political formations and the availability of private money. And then there is time. It is probably too late, now — four weeks before the poll — to come together and put into operation whatever electoral coalitions they may agree on.

Things the small parties cannot achieve

There are several big issues that are exploited in different ways by all political parties. Almost all parties, even those which know they may never get more than one percent of the vote in May 2019, may insist that their policies are best suited to address poverty, inequality, unemployment, simmering discontent, racial tension and the lack of social cohesion and trust.

Among the populist parties, notably the EFF and BLF, all political contestations are framed by scapegoating, the practice of denigrating others and achieving self-righteous indignation and hero-status.

Under some conditions, guilt, blame, embarrassment, sin or punishment can be transmitted, ethically, from a guilty person to an innocent person as a means of deflecting the shortcomings or ill-intents of despots and populists.

In South Africa, today, and for a range of justifications, whites, people of Indian heritage and descent, white Afrikaners and non-Africans, in general, are identified as the cause of all problems that beset the country.

The populists, then, make big promises, knowing full well that they may not be able to keep them — at least not in the first term of office.

There is absolutely no way that any of the populists (EFF and BLF) or les arrivistes like the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), the African Content Party (ACM), the Capitalist Party (ZACP) or the Good party, can raise the country up from poverty, reduce inequality, encourage trust and social cohesion and ensure that the country remains a full participant in the regional and global political economy and the current structure of global finance.

These claims are based on a firm understanding that between their ideological rigidity, anachronistic politics, odious backgrounds, inexperience — they don’t seem to know the difference between politics and governance — and their rhetoric and performance, the EFF, BLF, ACM and SRWP have good questions, but very few good answers.

The one thing small parties can achieve

The one chance the small parties have of overturning the ANC’s dominance of South African politics and governance, is for them to form electoral coalitions. On the left, and notwithstanding any rightist autocratic tendencies, there are the EFF, BLF, the SRWP, Azanian People’s Organisation, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, and the African Alliance of Social Democrats. Down the middle, there are the likes of Agang, the UDM, Cope, the African Transformation Movement, Good and the DA. On the right, there are the ZACP, the FF+ and the Inkatha Freedom Party. These lists are, of course, not exhaustive. There are 48 parties registered to contest the 8 May elections.

A leftist election coalition would be a disaster. Who will lead such a coalition? Will Julius Malema give his seat to Andile Mngxitama or Irwin Jim? Will Mngxitama accept Malema’s leadership? It’s hard to tell. But we can imagine…

The centre of a simple political spectrum is almost always a type of amoeboid. The centre changes shape through its liberal tendencies to incorporate all views, listen to all sides and make grand compromises for the sake of continuity, stability, representativity and all those misty-eyed niceties.

Down the middle, we would have liberals, some social democrats and the wishy-washy politics of Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s African Content Movement, the DA and the smell of Aunty Pat’s freshly baked apple pie.

Towards the right, there are the FF+ the ZACP, the IFP, the Minority Front, the Al Jama’ah and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP).

It’s hard to see Aunty Pat in a coalition with the DA, or anyone taking Motsoeneng seriously. Apart from the religion bits, the ACDP may be quite comfortable with the free market fundamentalism of the ZACP. We could go on and on, but let’s get to some of the possible stumbling blocks.

The personalities and pecuniary obstacles

Based purely on the numbers, if small parties get together to form electoral coalitions they still have no chance of unseating the ANC. That is based only on 2014 numbers, with some accounting for ANC losses. It’s always difficult to speculate or make predictions.

Nonetheless, a coalition of the centre and right may have Mmusi Maimane as the leader, and on the left Malema may take centre stage. Based on 2014 data, and unable to account for les arrivistes such as the SRWP, a coalition of the left may get as much (only) as 20% of the vote. A coalition of the centre-right could get no more than 35%. Each on their own, neither is big enough to unseat the ANC — even if the governing party barely pass the 50% mark. This is all guesswork, dear reader.

The record (mainly in African politics of the past 30 years or so) shows that there is not a great appetite for electoral coalitions, at least not with funding. Capital, the people and institutions with the moneybags, picks winners in politics. These people need incentives and guarantees. It is hard to see any big money going to Malema, Motsoeneng, Mngxitama or Irwin Jim. There is no incentive to back a political formation that will, well, take your money and run, based on ideological imaginings.

One can see money going to a middle-to-right coalition, but the most basic calculations may show this formation only as a viable opposition. This means you put your money on the winner, and some money on the opposition to add to the checks and balances that will keep the government on the right side of the law.

A bigger problem for coalition electoral politics is, with little question, the cult of personality that has swirled around minority parties. We should not forget that the ANC, too, is heavily dependent on Cyril Ramaphosa.

The left of the spectrum may be united by notions of social justice, as the left has historically been, but there are terribly odious characters on South Africa’s left flank.

While the state authorities have failed to fully investigate any wrongdoings by Malema and his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, there are very many questions that abound. There remain questions around their respective roles in Limpopo, tax avoidance, allegations of graft and rent-seeking, somatic and other violence and the rhetoric of revenge and recrimination. Unless any leftist can look past that, the EFF may not make a good electoral coalition partner.

There are, also, the before and after issues. Who will be the face of a leftist electoral coalition? Malema, Mngxitama, or Irwin Jim? My money would be on nobody. This would, surely, be the point at which the left implodes.

As for the centre-right, would it be led by Maimane, any of the FF+ leaders, Kanthan Pillay of the ZACP, Aunty Pat, or Mangosuthu Buthelezi? An electoral coalition of the centre-right has a slightly better chance of staying together, but what would happen after that.

If the left should win the poll, will Malema lead the country, or will he hand over power to Mngxitama? Doubtful. Highly doubtful. As things stand, we cannot be sure that Mngxitama and the BLF will even participate in the election.

All things considered, it is probably too late for electoral coalitions to come together — and contest the election seriously. It may be possible for, say, the ANC to reach an agreement with Irwin Jim’s SRWP, because of his support from organised labour. If the ANC can get the SRWP to cast its ballot for the ruling party, Jim may be offered a place in the sixth administration.

There is little chance of the ANC roping in Malema, Mngxitama, Motsoeneng or any of les arrivistes running about. Time will tell. DM

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