The writer says the IEC’s budget for the 2014 elections was R1.5bn. Photo: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

JOHANNESBURG – Electioneering seems to be a permanent state of mind in South Africa. As soon as one cycle is over, the next starts, whether it’s at municipal, provincial or national level, and that doesn’t include ad hoc by-elections called when an incumbent passes away, resigns or leaves office for whatever reason.

Right now, it’s all eyes on 2019. There’s a lot at stake. There’s a new leader in the current ruling party since last we went to the polls. There are questions about the opposition’s ability to keep it together in the run up to 2019 - even questions about who exactly the main opposition is. But over and above all the politicking, elections are big business, make no mistake.  

Earlier this year, at our Buy Local Summit & Expo, we convened a panel of various political parties to interrogate their intentions around procurement relating to election paraphernalia and to determine if buying local is part of their plans. We are concerned about the potential for a massive loss of revenue for the country if t-shirts, caps, jackets, banners, stationery etc are procured outside SA. 

And we are not only talking about party procurement. As I write, there are 5 tenders out on the IEC’s VotaQuotes website for everything from t-shirts and office furniture to gazebos and biometric fingerprint scanners. The IEC’s budget for the 2014 elections was R1.5 billion.They employ 200 000  people just for election day managing over 20 000 polling stations. That’s a lot of t-shirts and gazebos.

In 2014, the ANC is reported to have distributed 5 million yellow t-shirts, the largest number of garments ever procured for an election, costing a reported R118 million. They were procured from China. The party spent around R27 million on posters and billboards (we have a member, incidentally, that uses old billboard material to create fashionable bags and for every bag purchased, donates one to a school learner – they’re called Little Green Number, you should check them out) 

It is also reported that in 2016, the ANC spent over R1billion on local government elections on rallies, paying volunteers and on t-shirts (again).

That’s not to say that the other parties don’t also spend massive amounts on promoting their manifestos and staging rallies that are awash with blue or red shirts caps and berets.

We have engaged each of the major parties, as well as most recently the IEC, urging them to go for 100 percent local procurement of all these items, but over and above that we also want to drill down into their policies, specifically around job creation. Only through a policy of re-industrialisation will we truly grow our economy and job market. Creating jobs in service sectors does not keep hard skills alive, and many manufacturing tasks will be lost forever if we don’t preserve and build on our current manufacturing base.

Who we each vote for is highly personal and private, but we are asking that no one be seduced by a brightly coloured t-shirt, which may or may not have been made in South Africa. Maybe, as eligible voters, we should make our decisions based on who can do the most for job creation in this country. A significant upturn in our economy starts with job creation – more people in the formal economy, contributing to the fiscus, spending more, and being economically upwardly mobile. 

All party manifestos will undoubtedly have as a highlight rhetoric around the creation of much needed jobs. The reindustrialisation drive of the SA economy needs to start even before any single party takes office post elections. The actions of the political parties ahead of the elections will therefore be an indication of just how serious they are about addressing the unemployment pandemic that plagues our country. The immensely talented Lira sings ‘Ixesha’ and we ask the same thing of our politicians – don’t waste our time.

If our aspiring leaders cannot put their election spending money where their mouths are, we stand to lose billions of Rands and jobs just in the few months left between now and Election Day in 2019.

Eustace Mashimbye is chief executive of Proudly South African.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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