Lost opportunities

2009-05-04 00:00

Vernacular radio stations are excellent in communicating development that is taking place at the local level. Ukhozi FM, Ligwalagwala FM and UmhloboWenene FM have special evening programmes focusing on service delivery by municipalities and provincial governments.

The Zululand District Municipality’s mayor, Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, who is also the national chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party, last week gave a vibrant update of what her municipality had done in just a couple of weeks. She made me forget for a moment the sad news of the deadly ambush of an African National Congress convoy in KwaSwayimane a day before.

In just about five minutes, Magwaza-Msibi took listeners through a long list of projects completed and works under way. She mentioned hundreds of classrooms that have been finished, clinics and community halls that have been built, royal offices that have been put up, and sports development projects that are under way. She wrapped up her spirited update with an announcement that the newly refurbished sports stadium in Ulundi will be the home ground for the in-form Amazulu FC, thus bringing much-loved PSL fixtures to this neglected part of the province.

“Zululand is about making a difference in every family in the region and in a few weeks we will be bringing back more good news for this great district of the province,” she concluded. Such performance is no longer unusual in KwaZulu-Natal, but very little of this is associated with an IFP-controlled municipality. For this reason, Magwaza-Msibi’s updates were supposed to have been rich campaign material for the IFP during the recent elections.

She really is a remarkable communicator, oozing energy and feelings. She has a photographic memory, mentioning by name people who have benefited from some of her projects. This is how elections are won in South Africa today. It is not just history and tradition. It is about conveying in an inspirational and conversational manner what one’s party has done. It is also about talking directly to the target audiences rather than addressing leaders of rival political parties. Good campaigners pay good attention to detail and have confidence in their facts.

In the recent elections, the IFP presented Buthelezi as a man people could trust. But it would have been easier to present Magwaza-Msibi as such a person for the people of Umshwathi, Njengabantu and Faye who have gained nothing from repeatedly voting for the Buthelezi-led IFP. How could they trust Buthelezi when he had failed to crack the whip at failing councillors, MPs and premiers before, making it easy for the ANC to grow its support using accelerated service delivery? How could the IFP win new voters nationally when Buthelezi is associated with the past, including the grim part of our past? Perceptions, right or wrong, are everything in politics.

On the other hand, Magwaza-Msibi makes no secret that she does not tolerate mediocrity whatever political party it occurs in, something many poverty-stricken voters wanted to hear.

It does not make sense that the four-decades old IFP lost so badly in the elections when it had someone like Magwaza-Msibi in its leadership. As the early part of the Democratic Alliance campaign shows, the IFP needed someone with a record of delivery in a large municipality and a modern language of service delivery and efficiency, like Magwaza-Msibi, to survive the Jacob Zuma tsunami. The IFP knew this. It underestimated the potential that lies in her feminine touch in politics: a mixture of empathy and resilience, energy and intelligence.

I saw a poster of Buthelezi in Philippi, Cape Town, which was defaced with a question: “Dedela banye, suba uMugabe man,” (give others a chance, don’t be another Mugabe). The sentiment in the illegal act, however, weighed heavily against the IFP in the highly contested elections.

The incidents in Nongoma and Nseleni before elections did not help the party either.

Bantu Holomisa of the United Democratic Movement also failed to attract more votes because he stopped campaigning some time ago and used every minute of his encounter with millions of voters to tell them about the sins of the ANC. His party failed to capitalise on its role in the DA-led ruling coalition in Cape Town, allowing Helen Zille to take all the credit. Patricia de Lille of the Independent Democrats entangled herself in the identity politics of the Western Cape by accusing the DA of baasskap mentality.

I don’t know if these parties had in their ranks effective campaigners with an ability to win service delivery-minded voters. The IFP had one in Magwaza-Msibi and probably others. We have seen glimpses of intelligence in the young Thulasizwe Buthelezi before he was distracted by Julius Malema, but these individuals’ fear of internal change let them down.

Such an error of judgment will be severely punished come the 2011 and 2014 elections.

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