Will 2014 be the year of the Madiba election?

2013-12-08 10:01

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Electioneering came to a standstill as South Africans paused to mourn the death of their beloved former president Nelson Mandela.

The DA has instructed its activists and staff to suspend all election-related activity and the issuing of press releases for now, while the ANC has been visibly involved in organising the funeral and tributes.

At the time of his death, Mandela was an ex officio member of the party’s national executive committee.

But both parties have previously used Madiba’s name to campaign and it is expected that, once the mourning has ended, his legacy will be at the centre of campaigns.

Mandela has consistently polled as the most popular leader in South Africa, leaving others far behind.

Even while he was ailing, South Africans gave him 8.8 points out of 10 for leadership, according to a regular Ipsos Markinor poll published last month.

The second highest scorer was President Jacob Zuma, who trailed him with 5.6 points. The full results are yet to be released publicly.

Mari Harris from Ipsos Markinor said white people rated Mandela badly shortly after his release in 1990, with only 2.7 out of 10.

But by 1999, white and black people rated him equally highly and consistently, right through his retirement from politics and public life, and his illness.

Harris said she felt the ANC had been trying to score political mileage out of his death.

She felt it wasn’t appropriate for the party to sell its memorabilia outside Mandela’s Houghton and Soweto homes at this time. Scores of mourners have gathered there since his death was announced late on Thursday night.

“Suddenly it is an ANC occasion, and he really was everybody’s president, not just the ANC’s,” she said.

She said Mandela’s legacy would shift voters’ attention from service delivery protests, the spending on Nkandla, and corruption. But, she added, it was still a long time to the elections – about five months – and a lot could change.

ANC elections head Malusi Gigaba has denied the party would use Madiba as a “trump card” in next year’s elections.

“All former presidents of the ANC play a part in the campaign. The ANC isn’t so unethical as to seek to capitalise opportunistically on Madiba’s death. We are going to respect him now that he is late,” he said.

“It will not be a Mandela election – the ANC can fight its own battles.”

He said Zuma would still be the face of the ANC’s election campaign.

Leaders who have passed away feature in lectures and they help drive the party’s message.

“In the end the campaign is fought by the living – [the] dead are used to remind our conscience,” Gigaba said.

He said right now the party was paying tribute to Mandela as a former ANC president “who in his own words said ‘I will remain a loyal ANC member until the day I die’”.

The ANC, which is officially involved in organising the funeral, has been careful to give space to the other organisers – the state or the family – to do what they needed to during the mourning period.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe on Friday told journalists the party would be involved in memorial events, “but we don’t want to trample on any toes”.

The party has postponed its national executive committee meeting and list conference, which were scheduled for this weekend.

The DA, in turn, has instructed all its leaders to be silent, allowing only its spokesperson Mmusi Maimane, its leader, Helen Zille and Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille to speak.

Maimane said: “We believe South Africa has entered into a space of mourning. Our absolute focus is mourning the death of Nelson Mandela. That is that.”

He said it was too early to tell if the party would use Mandela in its campaigning next year.

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