The ANC might win the majority vote again but the DA and EFF are taking advantage to win new voters, writes Thebe Ikalafeng.
Every campaign season the politicians always say and do the right thing. In a country with more than 30 percent unemployment, they promise jobs. On a continent with the highest pre-tax Gini coefficients – the gap between the haves and the have-nots – in South Africa, arguably Africa’s richest nation but the world’s most unequal at 0.7, they promise to reduce inequality.
In a country with more than 16 million on social grants who are battling to make ends meet, they promise to reduce poverty.
In a country with a history of a collective struggle for independence irrespective of class, race or wealth, it is not strange to see candidate Jacob Zuma attending a Thanksgiving mass at the Good Hope Centre, Helen Zille kissing a potential voter in Chris Hani informal settlement or Julius Malema laying misaligned tiles in a house for S’thandiwe Hlongwane that the EFF built about 300m from Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.
During electioneering, politicians are with us and among us. They hear us, they see us, they feel us and they even remember where we live – or rather, where they come from and how they got to where they are.
But in-between elections it’s a different story.
They suffer routine amnesia while freely spending the R900 billion the SA Revenue Service collects, and rise above the people who voted for them – demanding they make way for their speeding blue light luxury 4x4 and sedan convoys.
Inexplicably, during elections, the electorate also suffers from amnesia – and invokes that South African spirit of ubuntu and forgiveness.
During elections, swept up in the euphoria and excitement of shaking hands, breaking bread, having mass with and kissing a president, ministers, premiers and those who want those positions, all is forgiven.
This election is no different.
With 33 parties registered to vote, it’s open season, and street poles and billboards are littered with party campaigns.
It’s been good business for manifesto and poster printers, aligned creative agencies and a temporary resurgence of the textile industry to produce that ubiquitous and unavoidable African election must-have couture – the party T-shirt.
It’s been a boost for the “sponsorship” industry with those individuals and institutions who are hedging their bets putting their money where their futures lie.
Leading the pack is the under-siege Zuma’s 102-year-old liberation movement, the ANC. The resilient and stubborn IFP of Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Helen Zille’s DA, a remnant of the grande dame of liberal politics, Helen Suzman’s PFP and merger with the old ruling party, the National Party, and basically a refuge for all – the former Independent Democrats’ Patricia De Lille and the former ANC Eastern Province premier Nosimo Balindlela.
Newcomers such as Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s floundering and, no doubt, the modern South Africa’s political faux pas, AgangSA; Julius Malema’s political saviour and revelation, the EFF; splintering splinters – Cope; Patriotic Alliance and NFP.
But with only three days to the election day, it’s clearly an unequal three-horse race between the ANC, DA and EFF, while the others scramble for voter leftovers to justify a tax-payer-funded parliamentary refuge.
The ANC is promising to create a better life – 6 million jobs, decent work, jumpstart the lagging economic growth, fight crime and corruption, housing, basic social services – everything that plagues South Africa.
It’s a heavy burden with its leadership under siege for, among others, corruption, headlined by the proverbial elephant in the expansive KwaZulu-Natal room – Nkandla. Thus the call for help: “Together, we move South Africa forward.”
Countering, or rather paralleling, the ANC, the DA is lobbying for the South African mandate by promising to do for South Africa what it did for the Western Cape.
It is promising “opportunities for all”, creating more real jobs than the ANC’s 6 million, growing the economy at 8 percent, faster than the ANC’s 1.9 percent, and getting South Africa “back on track towards realising the dream of 1994”.
Realising, like the ANC, that it can’t do it alone, it too is asking for help: “Together, for change. Together for jobs.”
On the other hand, the new kid on the block, led by the former ANC’s enfant terrible Malema, the EFF, has made an unprecedented run and impact on the national elections.
Perhaps not surprising, because its leader has been legally dispossessed of allegedly ill-gotten riches, its manifesto – its promise to the youth and poor – is to “control the state and gain control of the economy” to deliver hope and fast-track economic freedom.
Its commitment to jail anyone convicted of corruption for 20 years is either a rhyme with the euphoria of anything 20 this year – as is the preamble to the 22 South African ills during the 20 years of democracy – or an incredible gamble that its leader will survive all corruption charges he is facing (legitimately or tactically).
Its promise to the electorate has a sense of urgency which seems to appeal to the millions of youth and poor: “Now is the time for economic freedom.”
Much of these promises are beyond reach or reality, but perfectly pitched to sway gullible voters.
South Africa, as the ANC government has assessed, reported and repeated on the election trail, is definitely a better place than it was in 1994.
With 85 percent having access to basic services such as water and electricity, a GDP that’s grown from $150 billion (R1.5 trillion) to $400bn, tourism that’s risen from 3 million in 1994 to 9 million last year, and the highest beneficiary of foreign direct investment in the region, it is “a good story to tell”.
But like all good stories, the end is not always good.
All signs are that while that assessment is indisputable, South Africa is no longer the pre-eminent African global good story.
Foreign Policy Magazine’s Profitability Index, which measures the potential of high returns for investors, rated South Africa at number 41 – well below Botswana (2), Rwanda (3) and Ghana (10) globally.
Transparency International ratings show that South Africa has declined from Number 38 out of 177 nations to number 72 since 2001, with the greatest decline between 2009 and last year.
South Africa’s global competitiveness rating is now number 53, overtaken by Mauritius, from a historic high in the 30s, partly because of lack of trust in politicians,wasteful expenditure by government, poor education and skills, rigid hiring practices and labour market inefficiencies, and strikes which have risen from 24 days from 1994-1999, to a high of 20 674,7 days in 2010 according to the recent widely referenced Goldman Sachs 20 Years of Freedom Report.
Unemployment is estimated at 30 percent and as high as 70 percent among the youth, who are more than 50 percent of the country.
And now, Nigeria, undoubtedly Africa’s unrealised potential giant, is the biggest economy at $500bn compared with South Africa at $400bn, catalysed by Nigeria’s sustained high growth rates, 6.4 percent last year compared to South Africa at 1.9 percent. It may not mean anything on the ground, but in the battle for public perception and competition for investors, it signals a stunning repositioning for South Africa.
The numbers may be unintelligible to the man in the street, but pose a serious threat to the government’s ability to raise funds, pay debts and fulfil promises and thus hamper its necessary but ambitious infrastructure programme to enable a better life for all – creating jobs, reducing poverty and inequality.
That certainly matters for the ordinary man who is going to mark the ballot on May 7.
But while 77 percent of eligible voters are registered to vote, there’s a growing apathy among South Africans, with an alarming 35 percent claiming, in a recent IPSOS, to be uninterested in politics and elections.
ISS Africa quotes a survey by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in 2012 that there’s a decline in trust among the South African youth in the country’s leaders’ ability “to do what’s right”. Forty-nine percent of the youth do not trust politicians.
Fifty-eight percent would consider joining a different political party from the one they had previously supported.
In protest, according to a recent survey by Pondering Panda, one in four of the young South Africans do not plan to vote.
While there are growing voices for change, it won’t change the results on Wednesday.
The IJR survey found that 41 percent of young black South Africans, while despondent, still felt that the ruling party would do a better job than the opposition.
A TNS survey conducted earlier this year showed that 71 percent of the voting would be based on loyalty.
It is a consistent view supported by a “Who votes in Africa?” study by Afrobarometer that concluded gender, attitudes, political efficiency and education had little bearing on voter participation, compared to age, political affiliation or loyalty and geography, where the older and rural were found to be more likely to vote.
While the messages, political efficacy and campaign theatrics of the DA and EFF have injected a sense of democratic dynamism in the young democracy, the voter environment is a perfect hand for the ruling party, leaving the EFF to scramble for the few registered and apathetic youth, and the DA for the insignificant, albeit loud, urbanised middle class.
But for South Africa to regain its stature and moral high ground among global and African nations, it should not be that predictable. South Africa shouldn’t settle for anything less than the best.
As a growing democracy – no doubt a reality largely created, and strangely often challenged, by the ANC, contrary to the campaign by Ronnie Kasrils – South Africans must exercise their right to vote, for which they fought.
While the ANC will return to government, South Africans must continue to hold government accountable for the precious mandate entrusted in them to serve.
Or else, as Nelson Mandela warned, “if the ANC does to you what the apartheid government did to you, then you must do to the ANC what you did to the apartheid government”.
The elections will show that possibility is no longer far-fetched. It will be a wake-up call for Africa’s liberation movement that successfully fought hard for a better South Africa, but now seems intent to self-destruct.
But it is not too late to be the exemplary and enduringly great movement that Pixley ka-Seme, Sol Plaatjie, John Dube, Albert Luthuli, OR Tambo, Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela envisioned.
Nor should it be the legacy Zuma leaves.
* Ikalafeng is a global African branding and reputation architect, adviser and author who successfully led the political branding and campaign for Ghana’s ruling parties in 2008 and 2012. @ThebeIkalafeng.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.