Crucial support

2014-05-27 00:00

THE general elections that were held earlier this month could well be described as having gone the way some people liked very much and others not at all.

The elections had far-reaching implications for parties across the political spectrum, whether they are small, new kids on the block, or veteran political gamesters.

In KwaZulu-Natal, some parties, such as the ACDP and Cope, came out of the elections with no representation in the legislature, failing to retain their seats.

Others, such as the NFP and the EFF, did well to secure themselves six and two seats, respectively, in their first appearance in the elections.

The ANC and the DA emerged victorious as they increased their representation, with the latter adding five more seats to become the official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal.

But the Minority Front and IFP’s fortunes dwindled, as they lost one seat and nine seats, respectively.

The above shows how the parties were affected in positive and negative ways, but there is more at stake for parties when it comes to their electoral performance.

A case in point was a report that was published in The Witness recently, which revealed that the IFP not only lost its status as the official position to the DA, but it has seen its seats reduced from 18 to nine, which means that the funding the IFP has received in the past for its public representatives to run constituency offices and manage its caucus will be slashed by more than R20 million in the new term.

Unfortunately, this will result in the closure of some constituency offices and the retrenchment of some staff.

The party will also have to contend with reduced time for debates, but all is not lost if it has strong support staff.

Support staff are vital to any party, especially those who play an opposition role, and are key in making their party’s presence felt in the legislature in one way or another. They are the party functionaries whose task it is to undertake administration, communication, research and various other forms of spadework.

They often do their work behind the scenes, not just for public representatives, but for the party as a whole. They have the potential to make or break a party. Critical to their role is the conducting of research for their public representatives who are assigned to do oversight work on departments, to enable them to properly debate issues in committees and at sittings of the legislature.

They also have to write well-researched speeches and help create media interest among the journalists on those issues their leaders will highlight during debates and in discussion at portfolio committees.

It is no wonder that some parties, no matter how small they are, can be so effective in this regard — often outclassing their more heavyweight counterparts who have far more staff — thanks to the smaller parties’ support staff being better motivated and more competitive.

These are the people who ensure that the speeches of their political principals get distributed to the media in advance and help set the agenda in various ways.

When a party has reduced resources and finances, the consequence can be dire for the support staff, but fewer staff in a party can still be effective if competent people are hired.

They should, if a party is to occupy media space, ensure that prompt and relevant statements are released on pertinent issues.

It is in this context that the IFP needs to improve its support staffs’ performance and do much better if it is to reclaim any of its former stature.

This is not the first time the party has undergone this particular post-election experience. Over the years, successive elections have seen the IFP suffer a loss in resources and its number of public representatives.

The situation has seen some of its talented support staff, some of whom have since left, being absorbed as party public representatives, therefore unable to complement leaders as party functionaries.

This has had a knock-on effect and led to public representatives putting in poor performances during the last term.

By comparison, we have seen how the DA was able to maintain a shadow opposition with its much better capacitated support staff.

The IFP will need to be creative in allocating its reduced funding and resources in order to provide much-needed support to its public representatives if they are to remain a force to be reckoned with this term.

This sad state of affairs should serve as a warning to other parties, such as the NFP and EFF, not to choose support staff as a way to reward party members.

When the IFP hires staff to complement its public representatives, it must be people with capacity, to help the party carry out an opposition role and also translate into electoral gains.

This will only be possible if the limited resources and funds are allocated with a view to boosting the performance of public representatives in a way that adds to vibrancy in the legislature.

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