Even the most loyal of ANC supporters is apprehensive about abundant Nkandla-style corruption and moral decay, writes Susan Booysen.
Ronnie Kasrils’s pot shot of “anything but the Zuma-ANC” hits at the heart of the ruling party’s most pronounced electoral strengths. Perhaps this is one more step in the long walk away from the hegemony of the ANC.
The Vukani! Sidikwe! (Wake Up! We are Fed Up!)No-vote campaign trashes fundamentals of the orientation of “vote for the ANC, the struggle movement that has brought you a better life in the last 20 years, while closing your eyes to corruption and poor leadership and hoping that the movement self-corrects”.
It cuts across the ANC’s strength of voters uniting at election times to re-celebrate the 1994 victory, while contesting leadership and policies between elections.
It mocks the ANC dictum that disenchanted cadres must stay inside, be “disciplined” and help steer the movement’s self-healing.
In many ways the “Sidikiwe!” thesis of spoiling the ballot or voting for a small opposition party with integrity epitomises that the ANC mould is breaking and support is leaking, albeit slowly.
The ANC top leadership unleashed a telling tsunami of character assassination on Kasrils and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. The response revealed the Zuma-ANC’s dread that the “for the sake of love, do not vote ANC” approach could edge open sluice gates and redirect disappointment with the ANC towards opposition parties.
The Sidikiwe move – supported at its launch by a hundred-plus notable struggle and left politics names – echoes an election campaign that has seen party-political opposition being matched by a wave of broader civil society contests.
There is a festering pool of discontent about the ANC that has to date not found its way into voting for any party but the ANC.
At stake have been governing parties’, and especially the ANC’s, Machiavellian means of preventing slippages in electoral power.
This part of the election campaign has been cross-examining the meaningfulness and quality of South Africa’s fifth democratic election. Low-key intimidation and manipulation compromise the generally free and fair character of South Africa’s elections.
The big political parties scoop up funds from dubious sources and hide behind the legality of this secrecy. Does any party deserve a vote? Sidikiwe poses similar questions to ANC supporters.
These complications come at a time of vast pressures on the Zuma-ANC and its politically controlled government institutions. If wavering ANC voters listen to Sidikiwe and the civil society voices, the ANC will get hurt, even if still modestly so, in the election.
There is fertile soil. Even the most loyal of ANC supporters is apprehensive about abundant Nkandla style corruption, moral decay and the impact of the vote.
Nkandla has emerged as the centrepiece of this election. It epitomises the lack of accountability that irks and alienates voters. ANC supporters want answers too, irrespective of sustained loyalty in their vote.
Wherever the ANC has campaigned, Nkandla became the narrative. Leaders were challenged to get the ANC to be accountable and earn continuous loyalty.
Along with the outcry for accountability came the inability of the ANC to capture campaign debates with its “good story of 20 years of delivery” narrative. Citizens know the story, and could very well reward it come May 7.
Yet the public debate in this campaign has been Nkandla, Nkandla and Nkandla. The government’s predisposition for more investigations, its determination to find legal loopholes in the Thuli Madonsela papers, and delay tactics to ensure the president gets inaugurated, have not won the ANC new ballot crosses.
The ANC is seized in the Nkandla snare. Its campaign saver has been that the good story message (coincidentally, of course) articulated perfectly with the celebration of 20 years of democracy.
Without the government departments’ deluge of multimedia advertorials and advertisements, this narrative would have died in the war of the campaign narratives.
South African taxpayers will receive their thank you notes soon… perhaps a rebate for the emergency rescue of the Zuma-ANC.
The conflicted but observant ANC voter stands at the centre of this election. Research tells us that the ANC continues to feel like home and family, like part of people’s identities. But nowadays Nkandla symbolises the parent who has gone astray. It highlights elitism, exclusion from ANC power mogul circles. It rubs salt in the wounds of citizens’ damaged 1994 dreams of the good life.
They see mini-Nkandlas in their own communities; the wheeling and dealing of the local ANC “priests” are in-your-face realities of their everyday life.
Campaign audiences’ interrogation of politicians resonates with community protests, often fiery and violent. Citizens are campaigning to pin down their aspiring MPs and MPLs. They know now is their last chance to get the politicians and candidates to pay campaign visits. If the big chiefs are witnessed observing the distressing conditions on the ground, promises might follow. Voters commonly see campaign promises as empty nothings.
But promises remain one of the few tools available to get post-election delivery. Voters have wisened up: they scoff at the idea that representation of needs will follow in the wake of electing representatives.
The IEC has hitherto largely passed the test of a credible organisation that advances irreproachable elections. But the electoral management body has lost some of its shine, also due to the curse of Nkandla. The IEC has become campaign fodder. Several opposition parties demand the chairperson’s resignation.
Civil society asks why she should not step aside at least for the duration of the elections, and minimise compromising perceptions of IEC integrity.
Amidst Nkandla contamination any suggestion of impropriety raises red flags. There is less tolerance of the chairperson’s financial indiscretions, as pointed out by the auditor-general and public protector.
(The chairperson is taking the public protector’s report for review.) Incidents in by-elections in Tlokwe and Abaqulusi have already raised damning questions about the impartiality of IEC officials.
The ANC resorts to narrow legalism, as it did on its candidates list: “To the best of our knowledge, there are no charges that have been preferred against advocate (Pansy) Tlakula nor is there a case against her before any court of law.”
The SABC finds itself in the centre of the party political contests, squeezed between the political bosses and opposition parties whose advertisements were to be aired.
The DA, bolstered by the ruling that South Africa may call its president a thief (appealed by the ANC), led the charge in taunting the ANC on “home territory”.
This year’s campaign unfolds when the ANC (the one with the Zuma-ANC in tight control of a broad, disparate organisation) is feeling the political heat and needs to be cunning to limit grassroots support slippages. All phases of the electoral process are subject to low-key intimidation, and occasionally subtle manipulation.
The Community Agency for Social Enquiry report graphically illustrated this.
Occurrences vary from targeting specific areas for voter registration to making dissidents feel the pressure when they wear EFF or DA T-shirts, or attempt to hold or attend meetings.
Citizens who deviate from the predominant vote in their communities (mostly but not always ANC) worry that they might anger the gods of delivery and the community’s political police should there be post-election benefits or job recruitment drives that the community forfeits because the people had voted “inappropriately”.
Individual job hunters might have to prove how they had voted.
Chilling evidence of ANC alarm about its high but fragile levels of electoral support came this week in the security junta’s (cluster’s) briefing that assured South Africans that elections are on track, safeguarded by this circle of supreme Zumaists.
Could we help but see tones of Zimbabwean security force-governed elections, and in the newspaper advertisements that parade our own supreme security commanders?
On a different level, activist groupings such as Right2Know focus on the unending question: who pays for the main parties’ flashy election campaigns?
It raises questions about who really governs the country and who pays for the leaders’ election campaigns, the giant billboards and rally buses. It asks what party political bosses are selling their voters for … mining interests on faraway shores, big-time trade concessions, toll road gold mines, designer homesteads, oiled wallets?
The message to voters is: elect us so that we can look after ourselves, and perhaps even after our parties. There are few if any innocents in party politics, but the more the power, the greater the trade-offs. Is it surprising that Sidikiwe suggests voters might not find any alternative to the ANC on the ballot paper?
Struggle-related voter loyalty to the ANC persists but cropped-up discontent and the expressions it finds constitute the real spectacle of this year’s election.
Election 2014’s foregone conclusion that the ANC, flaws, warts and all, is set to win with a faded but certain majority has clearly helped push the electoral contest into the questioning of the quality and integrity of the election, the meaning of the vote, the credibility of the IEC. So far, the campaign trail has exposed South Africa’s fifth democratic election as falling far short of the 1994 multiparty ideals.
*Booysen is professor at Wits University’s School of Governance and author of The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power.
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.