When you voted yesterday, what did you vote for? Was it a person? Was it a philosophy or belief system? Was it a party or the history that they represent?

One or more of these may have been the reason behind your vote, but what you actually voted for in South Africa’s current political climate was a custodian of the economy. No matter what government stands for or what baggage they bring with them we must not forget why they are there in the first place – to take control of the things we cannot do ourselves.

You may not like President Jacob Zuma, DA leader Helen Zille or Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) commander-in-chief Julius Malema for the personalities that they are, but if this was what determined your vote then it was misguided.

In South Africa, the difference in parties is not defined by social issues such as abortion laws, or foreign policy strategies such as army deployment and war. In South Africa, the main differentiator is how parties are going to address the challenges of the domestic economy.

It is about how wealth is going to be generated; who will own the assets that do so; and how the wealth will be distributed once it has been made.

The one thing in every politician’s rhetoric is job creation. The difference lies in how they plan to create it.

The ANC, according to its manifesto, takes a stance that government must be the shepherd of the actions of others. It calls for private sector involvement in the growth of the economy, but lays down strict rules that firms need to follow in order to achieve this. The ANC’s main stance is one of a stronger role of the state, including large infrastructure projects, land reform policies, a redirection of government procurement to local firms, and a focus on rural development. In terms of employment the ANC still considers itself the main driver of employment by promising to create more public sector jobs.

The DA on the other hand places focus on incentivising employment rather than directly offering it. To grow the economy they see the most important factor as access to capital and public participation. Instead of driving economic growth as a political party they see its role as one of creating an enabling environment for others to create growth. One specific example of this is the emphasis on skills development through internships and skills transfer on the job.

The EFF take the exact opposite stance regarding government’s role in the economy; it wants full state involvement.

This does not imply full state ownership, but it seeks to control the actions of private enterprises to ensure that wealth is being distributed in a manner that meets its social goals.

Its manifesto lays down promises to have 50 percent of mineral resources locally beneficiated and industrialised, and that all food traders must source their supplies only in South Africa. It also advocates for stricter laws on labour and employment.

AgangSA’s outlook is similar to that of the DA’s, with the exception that it places greater focus on the foundations to economic growth such as education, health, and entrepreneurship and less on specific business policies.

The primary message sent by all parties surrounds how they plan to change the economy, and how that will change your life. The only thing personal characteristics of the parties’ leadership may influence is how credible their promises are and if we can expect to see delivery on them.

* Pierre Heistein is the convener of UCT’s Applied Economics for Smart Decision Making course. Follow him on Twitter @PierreHeistein.