Durban - Faced with voter resentment and a lack of publicity, political parties are wooing celebrities to bolster their chances at the polls.
From footballers to singers and actors, celebs are flocking to politics, but dividing opinion with their choice of party.
The tradition was started by the IFP in 1999, when it added Mandla Malakoane, a popular DJ at radio station Ukhozi FM, to its list in the provincial legislature. Malakoane became one of the party’s most controversial figures, serving on the transport portfolio committee. He later joined the ANC.
Now the National Freedom Party (NFP) has sought the services of Zimiphi “Zimdollar” Biyela, also a DJ at Ukhozi FM.
Biyela announced her resignation from the radio station last month, but initially denied that she had joined the NFP, saying she had been approached by a “big company”. However, two weeks later she appeared at number seven on the NFP list.
With the entertainment fraternity still reeling from Biyela’s antics, it was revealed that Buselaphi Gxowa, of the all-female maskandi group Imithente, had also made it on to the NFP’s list of parliamentarians, at number 14.
Gxowa first appeared on an NFP list in 2011 as a public relations councillor at Ekurhuleni, but later quit, citing clashes with her music projects.
The ANC, Cope, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) also boast – or once boasted – celebrities in their ranks, but not all are on the all-important parliamentary lists.
Vivacious kwaito star Thulisile “Chomee” Mdihlaba regularly entertains supporters at ANC rallies and often dances with President Jacob Zuma on stage.
Former Orlando Pirates and Bafana Bafana player Helman Mkhalele has appeared at several events urging people to vote for the ANC.
Last month Bafana midfield star Andile Jali, who plays club football in Belgium, joined the ANC in Durban, committing to help the party at the elections.
In the KZN legislature the ANC also has a trump card in charismatic church pastor Vusi Dube, the head of the eThekwini Community Church.
And DJ Siyanda, a club disc jockey, has been the chairman of an ANC branch in Lamontville since November 2012.
One of last year’s biggest surprises was when Fana Mokoena joined Julius Malema’s EFF. The former Generations star appeared for the EFF while his Hollywood debut, the Brad Pitt-produced blockbuster Word War Z, was still in cinemas.
In 2009 Cope had in its ranks TV and movie star Hlomla Dandala, but he might have been encouraged to join by his Methodist cleric father, Bishop Mvume Dandala, who was the face of the party at the time.
The phenomenon of celebrities in politics is not unique to South Africa. All over the world, celebrities use their social standing to advance their political ambitions.
In Liberia a former world soccer player of the year, George Weah, challenged President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the polls twice, first in 2005 and then as a vice-presidential candidate for an opposition party in 2011.
In August 2010 Wyclef Jean, of US music group the Fugees, tried to run for political office in his native Haiti, only to be disqualified because he had not lived in the country for the five years preceding the election.
Mdu Ngcobo, the owner of Touch Africa Records in Durban, said society should not frown on those who chose to associate themselves with certain political parties.
“I don’t have a problem if an artist identifies with either the ANC, IFP or the NFP. The problem would be created when the political work of such an artist starts clashing with mine, or unless such association prejudices my own prospects,” said Ngcobo.
However, Vusi Leeuw, the owner of Huge Entertainment in Joburg, disagreed.
As a star you should not divide opinion,” said Leeuw.
“You must remember that your fans come from different backgrounds and as such you are supposed to stay neutral.
“For example, few people knew that Nelson Mandela was an Orlando Pirates supporter. Yes, you can perform for the ANC, IFP or whatever political party, but endorsing them may endanger your career.”