Stop whining about the ruling party

2009-03-11 00:00

The ANC victory in the upcoming national elections is all but a certainty. Cope is struggling to get its campaigns off the ground; the IFP is defending the KZN votes it does not have; and the DA and ID have their eyes on the Western Cape. This past weekend, the ruling party flexed its muscles by holding simultaneous rallies in three provinces including the highly-contested KwaZulu-Natal, while its national figures held door-to-door campaigns in three others including the team led by Trevor Manuel in the Western Cape. Its posters are everywhere. Election debates by SABC, eTV and radio 702 feature not one, but various ANC leaders. This is massive saturation of the public space by the acronym, ANC.

It is easy to ascribe this to one thing: unequal party funding. Yet opposition parties have themselves spent so much airtime telling us about how bad the ANC is, but forget to inform us what their proposals are. They don't want to be known as whiners, but they whinge most of the time. They hope to win not by growing their support, but by reducing ANC appeal. That's unwise and lazy. They also need to capture the imagination of millions of new and undecided voters for whom issues of jobs, education, health and security are important.

Funding constraints, yes; but what do parties do with the little spaces that they get? Don't they know that while voters are gullible to fear, they also vote on the basis of euphoria or sympathy? Why do they choose to make the ANC a victim to be defended, by lambasting it or even attacking its supporters? Do parties forget that when for a time the ANC victimised Cope members, Cope grew even stronger?

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the ruling party is its age, the collective minds of its large pool of leaders whose skills were chiselled in street battles against apartheid. Its volunteer campaigners have been re-engaged to conduct door-to-door campaigns in the manner Cope did in the run-up to its launch before it passed responsibility to the scarcely experienced Mvume Dandala. What happened to able campaigners like Mosiuoa Lekota, Mluleki George, Mbulelo Ncedani and so forth?

In the manner in which it has planned its campaigns, the ANC also shows ambition, sometimes too much of it. It is pushing to increase its two thirds majority in the national polls and to win KwaZulu-Natal outright for the first time since 1994. The DA and ID choose to annihilate each other in battles for the Western Cape. The DA has officially announced that it will fight to win nationally only in 2014. The IFP wants KwaZulu-Natal, but concentrates on defending a few of its erstwhile strongholds, leaving the ANC to use the popularity of Zuma to make inroads into less-defended constituencies like Ladysmith and Mandini-Stanger. So, where are the alternative national governments that South Africans need?

In the remaining weeks, alternative parties can correct this defeatist approach and use every radio and TV airtime they get to capture the imagination of many undecided voters. They can simultaneously galvanise volunteers in strategically selected areas of various provinces to sell their agendas directly. They would need to lessen their over-dependence on their presidents. These individuals can only do so much and can only be in one or two places in one week-end. Why is Cope not exploiting the national profile of new recruits like Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Saki Macozoma if they are really committed to this party? All parties will be to blame should the ANC increase its powerbase in the coming elections. But this can change in the next few weeks.

* Dr Siphamandla Zondi is an analyst of policy issues on service delivery, governance and international relations in South Africa and Africa.

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