Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 2 May 2014

Dear voter… let’s talk frankly ahead of the polls

So, what are you going to do after the noise has stopped, and all the pre-election song and dance has come to a standstill?

By now you have had a chance to listen to all the song and dance, and you are probably still none the wiser about who to vote for. This is probably for one of two reasons: either you already knew who you were going to vote for and nothing was going to change your mind, or you were not excited by any of the alternatives presented to you. Either way, the campaigning has probably not made much difference to you.

This election campaign was one of the shortest. The ANC government ensured that most of the loudest noise occurred shortly after 27 April so that the mood of 1994 was captured and relived. This is undeniable, and has little to do with the sins of incumbency and a lot to do with stark historical facts we cannot deny.This is a historic election. We will not have another moment to celebrate twenty years of freedom, and the ‘good story’ narrative has stuck.

Even the opposition was hard pressed for something to say in rebuttal. The attempt to disassociate Mandela from the ruling party failed dismally. An ANC poster in Limpopo says: “Do it for Madiba.” I cannot imagine a more fitting tribute that ordinary people will feel when they enter the ballot box next week. This, and the undeniable ‘good story’ of two decades of freedom will see the ANC sail to a comfortable victory.

To its credit, the ANC is not sitting around hoping for Madiba Magic – it has campaigned. I have been to practically all corners of this country over the last six months, and there are ANC campaign posters everywhere. The ANC is going door to door to face the people with all their complaints and disappointments – they are not running away because they are fearing hard questions. This must be what defines the resilience of the century-old movement. Love or loathe them, ANC activists are unfazed by bad publicity – these elections are proof of that. The opposition has been particularly frustrated as they hoped to capitalise on the Nkandla debacle. Even when there were ructions inside the movement, the giant sleeps well tonight.

Does this mean the ANC does not have major challengers? No. All it means is that with all that is in front of us, the people are poised to give the ANC a renewed mandate that it must not squander. The reality is that the next five years and the next elections are going to be different – a new raft of younger voters will be asking a different set of questions, and parties can no longer rely on historical leanings. The ANC will be no exception. But as for next week, I wouldn’t waste my vote on any alleged alternative.

The opposition landscape has largely not changed for the better; it has simply fractured and increased its noise here and there. The birth of the EFF is largely reminiscent of the birth of COPE in 2009: A lot of noise, little traction. A lot of propaganda amongst the chattering classes and little resonance with the real numbers on the ground. The battle has to be won, especially in the hinterlands of our country, where hearts and minds of the downtrodden majority reside. If you hang your campaign merely on Jacob Zuma, the individual with some flaws, you are likely to go wrong. But people have actively differentiated the two and are sticking with the ANC. In my recent trip to Limpopo, I was accosted by a campaigner who said, “The ‘ANC is ours. Zuma may be gone tomorrow – Kasrils is saying we must throw out the baby with the bath water.” It was a brief but fascinating analysis that seems to have escaped most opposition parties. The recent survey of what matters to ordinary people does not place corruption at the very top – not in the same way as it tops the campaign noises of the opposition. What complicates things is that the ANC also agrees that corruption is bad and must be dealt with – so how does it become an electoral differentiator? The ‘Nkandlafication’ of the election campaigns of the opposition was largely its downfall. None of this means that corruption is not the bane of our society – but it is not the be-all and end-all of being elected to power.

The failure of opposition to unite over the last five years is a tragedy that they will pay for dearly next week. The failed marriage of the DA, the collapse of COPE and the unbridled arrogance of the EFF all ensure that there will be no alternative to many voters next week, and no alternative government to the ANC for a long time to come. The fake marriage of Agang and the DA also exposed the superficiality of some of the philosophy behind the alliances ahead of elections. It is not good for our democracy. A thriving democracy needs to have a real alternative in governance, not fake pretenders to the throne dressed in liberal gowns. From what voters are presented with – it seems we are gonna wait a long while for that.

On the campaigning side, though, we must celebrate a vibrant democratic culture of contestation. Given the hot contest that these elections are, the incidents of intimidation were few and far between. This must be commended. The parties generally kept insults to a minimum, and decorum in debates was generally observed too much for my liking sometimes. Maybe apathy is setting in and elections no longer even get politicians to be too hot under the collar when they should. The contest over radio and television advertisement was also an interesting development to watch. There is a belief that these adverts make a different. This is a mistake. These ads, like a Coke advert, are all about brand positioning, more than about persuading anyone to change their vote. They are important, but not crucial.

The DA and EFF’s negative campaigning of poking holes in the ANC is not sustainable, and may backfire by annoying potential voters. Voters have a funny way of wanting to know what you are going to do, and not what your nemesis has not done. Once you spent too much time on pointing out faults, you are on a wicket to nothing. Don’t misunderstand me: you have to expose your opponent, but there is indeed a thin line. The Ayisafani campaign captured the imagination, but could have been ignored if the SABC did not bother to ban it. On the other hand, if the DA approached ICASA and ICASA ruled against it, was it fair play to still flight the same advert on other online platforms? How does this respect the Constitution and structures of electoral codes — or is such respect for structures reserved for the ANC? Just asking, frankly…The same tendency is clear from the EFF’s ‘Destroy the e-tolls physically’ advert. Once ICASA rules against it, what – other than political gimmick – was the march to the SABC all about? Once again, the hypocrisy of our politics bubbles on the surface for all to see.

Overall, the ‘campaigner of the year’ award should go to the ANC’s positive approach – quietly stating the facts about what it has achieved and ignoring the punches on corruption, much to the frustration of the opposition. The ‘PR gimmicks’ award must go to the EFF, with its red berets and the takeover of the colour red, accompanied by the most outrageous election promises of the lot. The DA must take all the credit for the mimicry of western-style campaigning… printing boards and having Obama-like slogans. (This is not an entirely bad thing – we are, after all, global citizens.) Lastly, the ‘foot in mouth’ award must be placed firmly in the hands of Agang SA, with its fake marriage to the DA in the middle of an election campaign.

With all that being said, below are my humble predictions.

ANC – 62%. The ANC will sail comfortably to victory as the majority party riding on the wave of love for Mandela as well as 20 years of democracy.

EFF – 5%. EFF will take a few votes from the ANC and a chunk of youth votes. Given the virtual death of the ANCYL, this is a party that can one day reintegrate into the ANC, as we have seen COPE do.

DA – 21%. The DA will hold onto its official opposition position, having shown some courage in tackling the ANC. While there are black faces, many traditional voters will help the DA hold onto its number two spot in our national politics.

Agang, COPE and UDM. Between 2 and 4% each, or even between them. These parties have run pathetic election campaigns and are likely to have a few seats in Parliament between them. Ironically, they all had a hopeful start, but a disastrous execution of existence.They are fading fast – a sad reality for a dynamic and growing democracy.

These are merely predictions based on my humble analysis, not wishes – but since I am no Sangoma, let me wait to be proved wrong by you, dear voter.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane. DM


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