South Africa

ANALYSIS

Manifestly uncaring about manifestos — in SA’s political space, personalities and negativity dominate

Manifestly uncaring about manifestos — in SA’s political space, personalities and negativity dominate
Illustrative image | Members of the Freedom Front Plus at the national election manifesto launch at the Heartfelt Arena on 2 March 2024 in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier) | Supporters during the ANC election manifesto launch at Moses Mabhida Stadium on 24 February 2024 in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | DA supporters during the national manifesto launch at Union Buildings on 17 February 2024 in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lefty Shivambu) | EFF Gauteng manifesto launch at Dobsonville Stadium on 2 March 2024 in Soweto. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi) | PAC members during the election manifesto launch at Orlando Communal Arena on 2 March 2024 in Soweto. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti) | United Democratic Movement supporters at the election manifesto launch on 2 March 2024 in Midrand. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie)

The past few weekends have seen a parade of manifestos, in which political parties, for the most part, repeat the same promises they make before every election and concentrate on defending their base constituencies. This has important implications for the coalitions that will have to be forged after the 2024 general election.

Every political party, by default, claims to have a set of solutions to society’s most pressing problems. Technically, the most explicit and concentrated way they can showcase their claims is through the publication of their manifestos. 

But policy no longer matters as much — our politics often appears to be all about identities and personalities. 

Additionally, the manifestos that have been published reveal that parties are concentrating on defending their base constituencies and ignoring the political middle ground. This has important implications for the coalitions that will have to be forged after the general election.

The past few weekends have seen a parade of manifestos.

In its manifesto, the ANC made a list of promises … to end load shedding, stop corruption, fight crime and create jobs, among other promises.

It has made these promises before. One of the major issues in this election is whether it has delivered on them.

The DA says it will stop black economic empowerment (BEE) policies, end affirmative action, end corruption, fix the education system and reduce crime.

Again, it has made these promises before.

The same is true of the EFF, which provides perhaps the most detailed manifesto of all the major parties.

The party of Julius Malema wants to nationalise banks and other strategic sectors of the economy (without compensation), double social grants and expropriate land.

The FF+ says it will scrap BEE and employment equity legislation, and reduce the role of government. It claims that the corruption of the ANC is a new form of “apartheid”.

The PAC says it wants to Africanise the legal system and make changes to the government.

In short, while some of the more established parties (including, notably, the IFP) have not launched their manifestos yet, for the moment most parties are sticking to the policies they have advertised before.

The middle ground

This gives rise to interesting issues.

For example, if you are a smaller party and want to get more votes, it would be rational to appeal to those in the political centre, which contains more voters.

However, this depends on the goals of the party.

For the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), a policy may simply be an act of faith. It cannot be changed no matter what the political conditions on the ground are. (This may well sustain former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who is still telling interviewers that he will be President after the elections even though he is not contesting for any political party.)

The FF+ and the Patriotic Alliance are well aware that they will never win a majority of the votes, so they target a specific community.

Still, it is surprising that so few parties are contesting the middle ground. 

Their strategists may have decided that one party can’t win the middle ground in a country as diverse as South Africa. Or they may believe it is impossible to wrest the middle ground from the ANC. They may be betting that a big factor in this election will be turnout and hope to get as many of their core followers out on the day, rather than reaching out to new supporters.

This could explain why so many parties are repeating their old, well-worn mantras.

Do manifestos matter?

A question that needs to be asked is whether manifestos, policies and thus ideology  are of importance to voters, or whether the politics of identity dominates.

Certainly, identity has always mattered in our politics, and in a country with our diverse make-up of language groups, ethnicities, racial groups and classes, it will continue to matter.

It seems that the only reason for drawing up a manifesto is to use the launch of the document as a campaigning tool, rather than concentrating on what is contained in the document.

The fact that virtually none of the manifestos promises anything new or different strengthens that impression.

That said, the EFF’s manifesto, promising radical change and focusing on identity, stands out from the others with its potent message.  

Pushing out the same message in every election will not attract new voters to a party. It may lead to more voter apathy and could push down voter turnout.

The focus of political parties on their base constituencies will have consequences for coalitions.

Despite several party leaders saying they are preparing to work together (and, as Rebecca Davis reported, have got used to hugging each other), a focus on campaigning to your base inevitably leads to attacks on other parties. 

People are abused or harassed for wearing the T-shirt of a particular party. Concerns have been voiced that there could be political violence, especially in KwaZulu-Natal.

In the build-up to the election, leaders and parties are pushing hard in different directions. This will make it harder for them to work together in the political centre.

As a result, our society and the parties that represent different constituencies within it may end up further apart than they were before the election.

If the election is particularly close in national government or a province, this dynamic will be intensified.

Of course, none of this is predestined. A single issue may arise that unites many parties, or becomes the focal point of difference between them (possibilities include Israel’s actions in Gaza and the ANC allowing those implicated in corruption to represent the party in Parliament).

What is most likely is that on election day, despite the grandstanding occurring right now, most people will have forgotten that the party for which they are casting a ballot had a manifesto in the first place. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Whataboutboxer Animalfarm says:

    If we are to be a coalition country, then it will be prudent for a political party to properly itself differentiate itself.
    The challenge for the media and the voters will be to force the politicians to keep the conversation about policy.
    Team sports and finger pointing muddies the waters and provides a distraction for politicians who don’t know their own policies.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    The DA don’t actually have to put out anything. All they have to do is show how brilliantly they are managing (most of) the Western Cape despite having to look after millions of economic refugees from the ANC’s Eastern Cape debacle, and that’s it. And now that slimeball Mckenzie has helped me ANC destroy Knysna in 18 short months, even those moaners down here who criticise the DA without seeing how the ANC etc have stuffed up the rest of the country can pop up there and understand why we should all keep voting blue!

    • Richard Baker says:

      Agree wholeheartedly about the DA Steve but they are faltering in terms of support by failing to get those achievements across to the voting masses.
      Plus have not found common ground with the sensible other political groupings such as Rise Mzanzi to rid themselves of their white only public image and increase potential votes.
      All left too late now and even in the Cape they may find themselves reducing in reach and support.
      No argument that they are not the best and probably only party to save South Africa from the looming catastrophe-such a shame.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    An illustrative image….really?

  • Alan Watkins says:

    “In its manifesto, the ANC made a list of promises … to end load shedding, stop corruption, fight crime and create jobs, among other promises.
    It has made these promises before. One of the major issues in this election is whether it has delivered on them.
    The DA says it will stop black economic empowerment (BEE) policies, end affirmative action, end corruption, fix the education system and reduce crime.
    Again, it has made these promises before.”

    Stephen, you are being disingenuous. You as well as I do that the ANC has made these promises before and has failed in any measure in any way to get anywhere close to even partially dealing with these problems, in spite of having the power to do so. And you know as well as I do that the DA has outperformed the ANC by a zillion % and has made huge inroads into fixing the problems where they have the power to do so.

  • Casey Ryder says:

    Regrettably and depressingly, 30 years after the advent of the so-called “Rainbow Nation”, identity politics has become deeply entrenched and the exercise of holding elections amounts to a form of demographic survey.

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