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Election Day reverberations will be felt in days and weeks to follow

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

There is little to suggest that the election will be a stable affair with blue-blazer middle-class behaviour, and that the days after the poll will return South Africa to its elusive happy place.

Well, the election is almost here. There is little that has not already been said. We’re now in that brief period, like the one when I told students on the days before final exams, “It’s too late. If you haven’t learned anything by now, there is nothing you can do. There is no need to cram new ideas into your head in the 24 hours before an exam. You should, right this minute, be able to write the exam. My only advice is that you breathe. Just breathe.”

Among the things to look forward to, if you’re twisted and perverse, as I am, is the tedious barrage of accusations, claims, counter-claims, conspiracies and moans and groans of politicians and political spokespeople in the latter hours of 29 May.

In the closing hours of 29 May, all SA’s political parties will claim they received more votes than they have/did, and the populists will base their claims and arguments on racism, godlessness and those white monopoly capitalists. There will be reports of election interference, intimidation, fiddling with electronics, misreporting, bullying … and the customary threats of “constitutional challenges”.

Elections are always held with candidates dressed in garments of innocence. Everyone is innocent on election day.

In the public imagination, the Democratic Alliance is the eternally innocent and well-meaning party. Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi is innocent and well-meaning. Zibi is much beloved because “he speaks so well”.  

The ANC are the venal bunch that squandered all goodwill and trust. The Economic Freedom Fighters are “the people’s choice” for revenge and recrimination, and taking back what has been taken away from indigenous Africans.

The uMkhonto Wesizwe party are the Zulu nationalists (and with the EFF they represent the ANC circa 2009). Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema imagine themselves completely innocent, well-meaning and necessary. Malema truly believes that there is no one better equipped than he is to restore supremacy and lost pride to Africans; something which the ANC has been unable to do, and which they (Africans) deserve.

Herman Mashaba is the DA without the carrot, only the stick. A stick shaped by xenophobia. Enter the Patriotic Alliance, loudest of the populists, without the performativity and Google-intellectualism of the EFF, carrying sticks and stones.

The Freedom Front Plus represents the suddenly suffering minority within a minority — those humble, honest people who, if truth be told, seem to suffer from memory loss, and who, just when they lost power democratically, found comfort in the United Nations Minorities Declaration of 1992.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections

It’s funny how things work. Seriously, minority politics can be dangerous, but we should not minimise senses of abuse or injustice felt by small groups.

One political party, the ACC (nothing to do with the loosening of phlegm) wants “social justice” and to bring back the death penalty. Another party wants to create a secular-economic apartheid in an independent Cape; making like Mississippi in the greatest country that god gave the world.

Time is the rarest of resources

If the election day will be a snorefest, with customary twitches and disruptions of drug-induced sleep, the days and weeks after should provide unsurprising noises and disruptions.

If violence is avoided, the work starts in the days and weeks after the poll. It is during this period that we will probably fight over that rarest of resources, time. We know that each of Malema, Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and John Steenhuisen wants to be the next President. We also know each believes the other is incapable or ill-equipped, as Adolf Hitler claimed about the Germans, to restore supremacy and lost pride to Africans.

Should Ramaphosa prevail and be the next President, he will be confronted at every turn with the ANC’s tainted past. Zuma, too, will have to carry this burden. President Malema will repeat the scapegoating (that which Hitler mastered) and blame non-Africans for everything that is wrong with South Africa.

A President Steenhuisen will tell us that the Western Cape Works (the way Nazi Germany “worked”, or the way Jim Crow America “worked”) and he would make South Africa work… We could go on and on.

The one thing that the next government will not have is time. On 1 June, the leftist revolutionaries will decry the bourgeoisification of South Africa.

The performative leftist revolutionaries who would defend their crypto-fascism will hate the fact that there are still non-Africans in the country and who have a say in any matter. They will focus mainly on “white monopoly capitalism”.

The liberals, from the right-wing “classical liberals” to the nice people, will tell us that black economic empowerment, affirmative action and cadre deployment have destroyed the country, and nothing could be done about it — without them. That crime and corruption are the problem, and wang on about it until the next election.

Bringing up the right, the identity politicians will speak of the suffering of coloureds, Afrikaners, Zulus… It will be noisy.

One objective of the post-29 May era will be to make the country ungovernable and/or make the next government unable to do anything. Tie them up in conditionalities, claims, counter-claims and legal challenges, and continue poking at wounds 350 years, 70 years or 30 years in the making (pick a time period).

All politics will be about the past, nothing about the future. The past will be used and abused to block the future.

If any one thing defines so many politicians in South Africa it would have to be Google-intellectualism. This, together with the professional historian’s admission that interpretation of historical facts is impossible to nail down, that we select those facts that help us prepare faces to meet the faces that we meet, will no doubt frame SA’s politics after 29 May.

The past is not history. However, one thing that we can say with some certainty is that South Africans have always imagined ourselves as special or exceptional, as the most persecuted people in history with attendant appeals for special status.

Norms and rules of justice appeal only to others — we can do as we please, and believe, quite alarmingly, yet funnily, that we have forged new, historically unique political pathways and always will.

This, I believe, will mark the day of the election, and all the challenges on the day and over the days and weeks that follow.

As for the next two weeks… it’s probably too late to change anything. DM

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  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    “A President Steenhuisen will tell us that the Western Cape Works (the way Nazi Germany “worked”, or the way Jim Crow America “worked”)”

    Absolutely uncalled for. Steenhuisen is neither a nazi nor a racist, nor is the Western Cape comparable Nazi Germany or late 19th century North America.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    to means too

  • Ed Rybicki says:

    Great article, Ismail! Suitably gloomy,as many of are about the future.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    That’s an unfair tilt at Steenhuisen. He doesn’t fill me with confidence, I don’t think he’s the man for the job, and I differ with him and his party on many things. BUT he and the party he leads are clearly not racist. That is slander spread on social media. I understand that this is an opinion piece, not reportage, but you could have thought just a little before casting that aspersion.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    Has it occured to anybody that these folks are sincere? Zuma really doesn’t believe he did anything wrong or unethtical. What he did reflects the world he was raised in, and he gets that some people don’t like it, but he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. Even the gun-toting vigilante McKenzie believes he is doing the right thing. Etc.

    The only one I have doubt about is Mashaba. Does he really have so little idea of the role of the courts, that their job is not to make law but to apply it. Is he really so clueless about due process?

    You might not like the DA’s classic liberalism, though, in Cape Town at least, they are tempering that with some compassion, but they BELIEVE it. It’s what makes Helen Zille so dangerous, foolish, or courageous depending on your point of view. She really believes everything she says about the dark and mysterious forces of wokeness.

    That’s why we (not them) need to have a good think about what sort of country we want to live in, and then vote for the bunch that are going to tick the most boxes for you.

    • MT Wessels says:

      Good comment.
      This article elicited a chuckle, what with Mr Lagardien insulting everybody equally (and successfully judging by the responses). But it is all a bit yawn-inducing, like having someone read the same restaurant menu we have all been pondering – whilst insisting how dire every option appears. He is, of course, correct: the options are not terrific. But now that we have heard his unfettered views regarding the smorgasbord in front of us I would be more interested in where he will be placing his mark on 29 May. We have the menu, we have your unvarnished pronouncements. So which dog will get your considered support out of the rotten pack – strategically, long spoon, or full throated? Surely you’re planning to vote, right? Lest we think you’re simply leaving yourself free to complain afterwards about how the rubes are steering the handbasket?
      Take us into your confidence, Mr Lagardien!

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Lagardien – your myopia and hugely biased nature against the DA is pathetic in the extreme. You leave a lot to be desired for one who trumpets his academia and have anything but an open mind. You are also racist to boot whilst calling Malema out. The DA is nowhere close to being Nazi and if only the country was run like the DA has done, SA would be progressing/prosperous for all its people, flying and a giant on the world stage, respected by all and not just the usual vile/evil mass-murderers and human rights abusers of this world. We all know who they are!

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      You don’t understand what racism is. Calling out racists and racist history and traditions is not racist. I doubt you willl change your mind with reason, logic and presentation of historical patterns.

    • Ismail Lagardien says:

      I don’t think I “trumpet my academia”… If you read intertextually, and considered the facts as detailed in the 2022 book, my adventures into academia were a failure. Second, academic achievements might be normal/traditional for some, but for others it was never meant to be. I am cool with my achievements. As for having a closed mind. Do read intertextually, and reflect on where I have said I was really ignorant about many things. Then again, I doubt that you would change.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Voila … you’ve done it again, as I said in some earlier post! ‘Upset’ a segment of the readers who would probably fit the ‘liberal’ tag. Most of those would want the DM (not just you) to become an declared ‘mouthpiece’ of the DA. Not unlike the mainstream media is most western countries have become the handmaidens/extensions of Zionist propaganda for the past 50+ years, including the demonisation of groups/people they dislike. They have even coined terms like “self hating” Jews, (poor Zapiro!) for those who are not married to Zionism. Unfortunately DM is not going to let that happen here, at least not in the short term. The numerous instances of your proclaimed/confessed lack of serious ‘knowledge’ on certain matters/issues, seem to be lost on most of them. Hence yout attempt to apologise to them, is actually ‘wasted’ in a manner of speaking. Keep up the ‘provocative’ perspective/s .

  • Terrence B says:

    If you close one eye, this could be mistaken for an IOL article.

    “crypto-facism”, “performative lefist revolutionaries”, “bourgeoisification”, “god”, “Google intellectualism” – ANC are right-devisionists, SocDems are proto-fascists, Marxist-Leninism is State Capitalism, Cape Independence is “Capegemeinschaft” dribble dribble… We get it. Very edgy, much contrarian. You are the anointed one. Please continue to bless us, mere provincials, with your PhD and “true intellectualism”.

  • Thug Nificent says:

    You are one of my favourite writers here Ismail.

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