Election countdown

2009-04-21 00:00

HELEN Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, has been quoted as saying that she is “outdanced”. The electorate is certainly “outpoliticked” after an election campaigning which in effect began before Polokwane in December 2007. The 48-hour cooling-off period before election day offers a welcome respite. And it is a relief that we will finally get to cast our votes tomorrow.

No one doubts either that the election will be free and fair, and that the ANC will garner at least 60% of the vote. Jacob Zuma will become the country’s fourth post-1994 president, but there is no doubt that the star of the ANC’s final rally at Ellis Park on Sunday was not him but the frail 90-year-old Nelson Mandela making what was probably his last appearance on the political stage. For a brief moment, the euphoria of 1994 was recaptured.

Zuma told the ANC faithful that the “ANC brand” had never been so strong. It may prove wishful thinking. Sunday’s elegiac mood might not altogether translate into votes. The long-predicted split in the ANC has come to pass with the emergence of Cope as South Africa’s first major black opposition party. A small but symbolically significant number of black voters will be leaving the ANC for the first time tomorrow, some of them admittedly Thabo Mbeki loyalists carrying the baggage of that association, but many of them will be young people without any connection to the liberation struggle.

This, together with the growth of the DA, especially in the Western Cape (where it must have been cheered by some quite astonishingly good performances in recent local government by-elections), is important for South Africa’s wellbeing as an adolescent democracy. ANC rule, for all its blemishes, has managed the South African economy remarkably well and a comfortable majority will ensure that that continues, particularly if Trevor Manuel stays on as Minister of Finance. Given the global economic turmoil, that is important. But it is equally important that there be a strong opposition to maintain high standards of governance by adopting a critical and monitoring role, and by asking questions.

But until the last of tomorrow’s votes is counted and collated, no one will really know all the answers. That moment cannot come too soon.

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