South Africa

ANALYSIS

Final election dash begins — Zuma’s MK under pressure and big parties click into action

Final election dash begins — Zuma’s MK under pressure and big parties click into action
Illustrative image, from left: Former president and MK party leader Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Brenton Geach) | Former president Thabo Mbeki. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | Build One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | Deputy President Paul Mashatile. (Photo: Shelley Christians) | Rise Mzansi leader Songezo Zibi. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Victoria O'Regan)

With exactly one calendar month left to campaign, there are signs that patterns from previous elections will be repeated. The internal structures of the ANC, the DA and, to an important extent, the EFF, are starting to assert themselves. This will put pressure on new, smaller entrants — in particular, former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe party.

While no issues have yet defined this campaign, the previous 12 months have seen much speculation about the potential of the new, smaller parties. Now, as in the past, these parties may start to fade as the bigger organisations assert themselves.

After several weeks of lacklustre campaigning, the ANC has begun to deploy its big guns, including former president Thabo Mbeki on the campaign trail in Soweto.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Thabo Mbeki on Soweto charm offensive as ANC ‘unleashes’ senior leaders

In vintage Mbeki fashion, he did not shy away from the problems facing the ANC, but he still urged people to vote for the party.

This is part of a larger strategy on the part of the governing party. While surely aware that the quality of life in SA has deteriorated significantly in the past five years, it is still campaigning on its performance over the past 30 years — and trying to send the message that only the ANC is capable of running the country.

Of course, this played into the government’s celebrations marking 30 years of freedom. (Unfortunately for the ANC, 27 April this year fell on a Saturday, which lessened the impact of the celebrations.)

The ANC’s strategy will meet with mixed success as its track record of poor service delivery will be attacked by opposition parties.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

However, the ANC will stick to its tactic of reliving former glories. Other figures associated with the best days of ANC governance are likely to also be deployed, in a bid to remind voters how SA’s economy grew strongly in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Considering that older voters with memories of that time are much more likely to vote than younger people, it could be effective.

This strategy is not without potential problems. One can imagine a situation in which a voter accosts Mbeki on the campaign trail and points out that her children were lost/sacrificed to HIV/Aids because of his policies.

Pertinent questions

Meanwhile, the DA is now releasing the answers to what may have been a carefully timed selection of parliamentary questions.

One answer from last week revealed that the SAPS VIP Protection Unit had spent R42-million on fuel alone between 2018 and 2022. It was a chance to remind voters that the budget for the unit had increased by 25% over the past five years, while the budget for the Crime Prevention Programme had gone up by just 11.5%.

On Sunday, the answer to another question showed how the ANC government had spent R3-billion on bonuses for government workers.

This is part of the DA’s long-running strategy of reminding voters of the ANC’s many mistakes that result in catastrophic service-delivery failures.

While it is dangerous to make predictions about this specific dynamic, it is entirely likely that there will be more service delivery failures in the next four weeks and more examples of government corruption.

The importance of this should not be underestimated.

It is one of the terrible ironies of our society that richer people in the suburbs are more likely to vote than poorer people in townships and rural areas. This is for many reasons, including that they believe they have a formal stake in society and their parents voted, while the parents of the majority were denied the vote.

While some voters in this segment have said they were dissatisfied with their voting options, the water problems in eThekwini and Joburg may well see them voting for the DA.

In some places that are tightly contested, like KwaZulu-Natal, the turnout from suburban voters will have an important impact.

Poster contest

Meanwhile, the EFF appears to have won the poster contest in many urban areas. 

While the party lacks the machinery of the ANC, its members are campaigning hard in places the DA does not reach.

If the EFF does make significant progress in this election (the latest Ipsos poll has it at only 11.5%), it would be evidence that it finally has a coherent ground machine.

Several weeks ago, MK too was competing strongly on the poster front, which was seen as evidence the party had a functioning internal organisation.

However, this is beginning to fray.

On Friday the party announced that it was expelling five leaders, including the man who registered the party, Jabulani Khumalo.

This is a strong indication that MK’s decisions can only be made by former president Jacob Zuma and that the party exists solely to serve him.

That’s a key weakness — our history has shown that no party wins a large number of votes consistently if it revolves around one person.

There are other problems ahead for MK.

On Sunday, City Press reported that a former member claimed that some of the signatures submitted to the Electoral Commission for its registration had been forged.

And, while the Electoral Court has now issued its reasons for its decision allowing Zuma to be a candidate for the party, the Constitutional Court is clearly of a mind to hear the IEC’s application for clarity on whether Zuma can be a candidate for Parliament. (Importantly, the judgment found that there is no difference between whether someone qualifies to be an MP or whether someone qualifies to be a candidate to be an MP. If the Constitutional Court confirms this, it would not be up to Parliament to decide if Zuma qualifies to be an MP, but the IEC).

This means that Zuma could still be prevented from being a candidate for Parliament.

This would have important repercussions, as the party would have no leadership in Parliament. And, if there is no clear and coherent structure, voters might well ask what the party could achieve in Parliament or the KZN provincial legislature.

While there are still 30 days until voting day, much can still happen, but the patterns of the past are beginning to reassert themselves. This means the ANC’s predicted share of the vote may increase, the DA’s might stabilise, while the small and newer parties’ fortunes fade away. DM

Gallery

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