The use of state resources to boost the ANC's profile may have given us a look at SA's future, writes Susan Booysen.
Election 2014 is South Africa’s real miracle election. So much has been happening on the ground; so little has been filtering through into the probable outcome. The ANC, enfolded in volatility and haywire campaign plans, is set to emerge with a victory margin that shows slippage but will be uncannily similar to five years ago. The Good Story Party is expected to get 62-63 percent in this week’s national vote.
If the ANC could do this well in Election 2014, amid an ocean of doubt and suspicion, could it do well in elections for the next 100 years, or “until Jesus comes”?
The 2014 wonder is in fact a systematically manufactured marvel. The seeming riddle of ANC supremacy amid adversity has three legs – the ANC’s unremitting, albeit changing, linkage with the South African people, which often overrides leadership malfunction; the innate weakness of opposition parties; and the use of state power to compensate for decay in the ANC’s support base.
The latter further contributes to opposition parties remaining feeble challengers.
The biggest wonder of all will be that President Jacob Zuma might infer that the ANC had not suffered for his leadership. This is the tale of Zuma in Wonderland.
Many in the ANC ponder how it is possible to get away with not leading by example and deflecting valid critiques of leadership in government.
Fact is the ANC and its president will get away with it… aided by South Africa’s wall-to-wall celebration of 20 years of democracy, the idealised memory of Nelson Mandela and unrelenting action on its delivery link to the people – liberally using state power and resources in the process.
This all contains the opposition very well.
The ANC in Election 2014 might even have benefited from appalling leadership. It feeds the argument that failures are not the fault of the ANC as an organisation. Rather it is the fault of the leaders. People argue: “The ANC is better than this leader; the movement will self-correct.”
But ANC campaign strategists know what hard work it was to protect the president.
Number One was sheltered from booing and audiences that wanted to talk Nkandla rather than the good story.
Gone are the days that the president could enter in grand style to quell protests.
At the base of the marvel is the continuous, deep loyalty that South Africans feel towards their ANC.
They vote for the organisation that helped liberate them and brings them the Mandela memory.
Even if one-off or unevenly, the ANC has delivered in the course of the past two decades. Voters are forgiving. They know the ANC’s faults, yet believe the ANC offers greater hope for further delivery than opposition parties.
The ANC looks strong when compared with opposition parties. The DA is projected to show a 5-6 percent increase over its 2009 national performance and get 22-23 percent this time around.
These figures, in this week’s polling information from Ipsos, will constitute great national-level growth for the DA. However, it will also represent stagnation compared with the DA’s 23 percent in the 2011 local elections.
This result, after the DA’s remarkable 2014 campaign, could be confirmation that the DA still fails to crash the racial ceiling.
Will the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) capture the angry young black African voters who might otherwise have dabbled with voting DA? Coloured and Indian minority groups are nowadays aligned with the DA. The ANC’s belated minority appeals captured media attention but fell short of netting minority hearts. The Western Cape will not change hands.
The same fate is in store for that minor icon of minority Indian representation, the late Amichand Rajbansi’s Minority Front (with origins in the tricameral era of the apartheid regime). It is most unlikely to make it into Parliament again, along with other community-style political parties with links to the coloured component of the electorate.
The EFF mounted an against-the-odds, strong newcomer assault. In the polling stakes Ipsos projects 5-6 percent support, as opposed to Pondering Panda’s estimation that it will rise above 10 percent. It will help edge the opposition closer to ending the ANC’s Gauteng rule. However, the EFF and the DA are unlikely to jointly constitute a new Gauteng majority.
Had all EFF supporters been of voting age, and had the 18-19-year-olds registered in greater numbers, it might have been a story of a different colour… unless angry ANC voters still decide in dramatic numbers to make the EFF their Election Day vehicle to get back at the ANC.
Other opposition parties are in survivalist mode, barely making it into Parliament. Together the three big players – ANC, DA and EFF – could account for 93 percent of the national vote. The remaining 7 percent are likely to be split between Cope, the UDM, IFP and ACDP in the 1-2 percent ranges, and AgangSA, FF Plus and NFP on lower than 1 percent each.
With the margin of error of the best of the opinion polls at about 2 percent, minor miracles remain possible for the small and micro-parties.
About half of the 29 parties on the national ballot are unlikely to reach the threshold for one parliamentary seat – about 47 000 votes on a hypothetical (low) turnout of 74 percent.
It will be astounding if newcomers the Workers and Socialist Party and the Patriotic Alliance make the cut. Besides, the Minority Front, Azapo, the PAC and the UCDP (a remaining Bantustan relic) may also bow out of Parliament. Spoilt ballots (perhaps rising to about 300 000) will make a bolder statement than in previous elections.
Multiparty democracy is a cruel game and not all the poor opposition party performances would have been these parties’ own fault.
The ANC combats opposition parties both in inter-party contests and in the arena of the state, armed as it is with public resources.
It excels at countering rising opposition parties before they become electoral threats and legislative hazards. As an example, from a long list of tricks, the EFF – in the mode of Cope five years ago – has in all probability been infiltrated by the ANC.
The EFF is aware of it. It will have to fight against debilitating paranoia and distrust setting in.
“State resources, oh glorious state resources” signals the third leg of explaining the ANC’s wondrous pending result.
State agencies, ranging from government departments to public media, were de facto election agents. The banning of campaign advertisements, community-based intimidation of budding opposition supporters, the South African Security Agency and provincial departments delivering truckloads of campaign gifts (food parcels, bicycles and opulent tenders)… these were just par for the course.
Opposition parties were undermined by ANC-controlled municipalities blocking their access to halls and stadiums. This week the EFF refused to suffer in silence.
It took the denial of the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville to the courts and won the out-of-court concession to stage its final rally at the venue.
Not all parties were that lucky.
Add to all this the rapid succession in recent weeks of official openings (campaign parties, in fact) of dams, schools, houses, bridges and power stations.
Obviously delivery is effected continuously, but the avalanche of campaign-connected special deliveries in the past two months left many breathless. It takes meticulous central government planning to get the curtain pullers and ribbon cutters on national television.
It worked. Citizens were immersed in “unpaid for” advertising.
Government department adverts spread the ANC’s message of 20 years of delivery that built the good story. It came in the form of building wraps and billboards, often in ANC colours. No opposition party could compete.
Election 2014 would have exacted a much steeper toll if the ANC did not have these resources at its disposal.
Many hold their breath and anticipate a new future beyond the hegemony of an ANC that is a thorough amalgam of liberation legacy and patronage tsar. Will there be more vibrant opposition the next time around – even a left formation – around the possible Numsa party, the EFF and a host of other small left parties?
Not necessarily, if we take the ANC’s campaign 2014 as the guide. Multiparty politics thrives but opposition politics is vulnerable.
The ANC does not take opposition party prisoners. It will use a full repertoire to retain power. Election 2014 and the ANC’s handling of it may indeed already have been a glimpse of the future.
* Booysen is professor at the Wits School of Governance and author of The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.