Masters of the ballot box

2014-04-09 10:00

After every election, pundits and opponents alike are left wondering how the ANC pulls the kind of electoral support it does despite continuous service- delivery protests, numerous scandals by its leaders in government and internal ruptures.

But one has to admit that the ANC plays the election game well. Its members work much smarter and harder than everyone else.

You see them everywhere in their Jacob Zuma T-shirts?–?at traffic lights, the local hall, on the streets, at the car wash and at the entrance of the local mall.

The ANC enters this election hobbled by the nonexistence of its youth league, whose structures it dissolved and whose previous leader, Julius Malema, is now working to erode ANC support.

It also cannot rely on labour federation Cosatu, which is only a shell of itself after internal divisions weakened it.

Some of these centre on whether the federation should continue to support the ANC and President Zuma.

One of Cosatu’s affiliates, Numsa, has refrained from encouraging its members to vote for the ANC.

But at this stage of the 2014 provincial and national election race, the ANC is the only party whose presence is felt everywhere I go.

Granted, it is the governing party and has a stronger national footing than anyone else, but it is not taking its incumbency for granted.

Much as I am convinced that the ANC’s support will drop in a manner that will cause alarm and introspection internally, it will not be through a lack of trying.

In an election where the party is expected to fare the worst since 1994, the ANC seems determined to make its critics eat humble pie.

It even resorts to questionable methods to win votes.

These include what the party calls quick wins – meaning that local councils and councillors have to find speedy ways to generate goodwill for the ANC.

These include distributing food parcels to poor families who are suddenly remembered weeks before an election.

Another quick win is to sign up people to qualify as indigents?– meaning that they pay less for municipal rates and services, and their arrears are written off.

I recently spoke to a councillor who told me he had signed up 900 households as indigents in the past two weeks.

The question is whether all these people qualify in terms of the criteria.

For if they had qualified, they would have long been signed up for this standard service?–?not just before the elections.

The other route is through the community public works programme, which is being accelerated to reach more people.

Some services are real benefits of incumbency, but mostly this is an abuse of state resources that needs to be challenged.

The main contenders

Those who would be king

EFF

There is no doubt that Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has surprised those who thought they were crushing his political career when they expelled him from the ANC.

A calculating politician who is adept at adjusting his message to an audience, Malema started the EFF from virtually nothing to a fashionable outfit with great appeal to the youth.

He has marshalled the hopelessness and anger of unemployed youth into a frenzied energy to remove the ANC.

Like the Congress of the People of 2009, he has aimed his guns directly at the ANC’s point of vulnerability: President Jacob Zuma.

This factor resonates with the black middle class, which is not the EFF’s core focus but is nevertheless supporting the party in surprising numbers.

But with Malema as its only recognisable face, the party is spread too thin to cover the majority of the country.

Compared with the party that it is trying to dislodge, the EFF has yet to be in every township, informal settlement and street.

Only when it does that, will the governing party start shaking in its boots.

DA

What has made the period leading up to the elections so interesting is the apparent confusion in the ranks of the official opposition, DA, which has

been caught up in trying to retain its existing supporters while aiming for a new audience.

It has long been predicted that the DA would increase its voter percentage in these elections, but the margins of that increase could be affected by its recent blunders.

DA leader Helen Zille showed her desperation for black support when she tried to woo Agang SA

leader Mamphela Ramphele as the face of the party for the elections without sufficient consultation with her party.

Her later clash with Ramphele and her subsequent disparaging remarks about the Agang SA leader after she pulled out, showed an ugly side of Zille.

Zille has also had to contend with conservatives in her party. They have been personified by her predecessor, Tony Leon, who criticises her strategy and feels that she tries too hard to be like the ANC.

But Zille will still enjoy support from voters who view her as the alternative to an ANC majority and her party will still clean up the minority vote.

However, I feel that long after voting, doubts and questions will linger about whether she could have approached these elections differently.

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