Guest Column

Elections 2019: The manifestos behind the manifestos

2019-04-10 05:00
Pro-Cyril Ramaphosa ANC members picket outside ANC provincial offices in Durban yesterday.PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

Pro-Cyril Ramaphosa ANC members picket outside ANC provincial offices in Durban yesterday.PHOTO: Ian Carbutt

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Don't be fooled by political parties' glossy bible-size manifestos and don't you fall for their populist rhetoric about land, African foreign nationals and economic silver bullets, writes Tinyiko Maluleke.

By now, you have received your Independent Electoral Commission confirmation SMS, saying, hooray, you are a registered voter. You may have also received several computer-generated phone calls from some political party heads, sounding high and dodgy, promising you great peace and other pieces of land, sea and sky. All the 40+ political parties registered for the 2019 elections, desperately want you on their side.

I have seen them invading the ghettoes, villages, and the slums – resplendent in the noisy colours of their political parties. I have heard them singing out of key, fibbing without flinching, and dancing without rhythm. Never in recent memory, have so many politicians of various shapes and sizes, been caught on camera, entering and exiting ramshackle shacks, dilapidated huts and derelict hovels in which their fellow compatriots live.

Never have so few left so huge a trail of party t-shirts to so many, who are so desperate for something more substantial.

In their manifestos, they trumpet the virtues of human dignity, the sanctity of life and the urgency of the services which they and they alone can deliver. The whole lot of them say they love you with a love so revolutionary, you would never understand. What they mean is that they have never cared more for your votes.

My fellow South Africans, don't you let them bamboozle you. As you receive the sixth unsolicited t-shirt from the fourth political party leader, be angry and be contemptuous, but also be careful to feign gratitude by bowing respectfully, while farting silently.

The only political leader you can trust, is the one who recently fell into a pit-latrine during electioneering, so that he came out a changed man, fully covered in dung, or better still, he drowned and died noisily inside the pit. Let their tall promises come in through your left ear and immediately exit through the right one. Don't be fooled by their glossy bible-size manifestos and don't you fall for their populist rhetoric about land, African foreign nationals and economic silver bullets.

My fellow compatriots, in these last few weeks before the elections, be wary of the manifestos behind the manifestos.

Nine wasted years

Behind and betwixt the 'let's grow South Africa manifesto' of the ANC, lies its other manifesto called, the 'nine wasted years', also coined by some of its leaders. The different interpretations and the divergent lists of achievements and failures during the nine years in question, which are given by various ANC leaders notwithstanding, the latter is a manifesto worth probing. Since the phrase, 'nine wasted years', was first uttered, there has been backtracking, finger pointing, name-calling, knuckle-wrapping, renewed calls for unity and more recently, a declaration that the nine wasted years are the stuff of myth and legend.

But when the leaders of a liberation movement openly suggest that there may be reason to ponder the possibility of nine wasted years under their watch, we have little choice but to sit up and listen. Maybe it was a Freudian slip. All the more reason to sit up and listen. For let us face it, not even Bell Pottinger in its heydays, could have conjured up a slogan so pithy, so memorable and so devastating as – 'nine wasted years'. Has the wastage tap been closed now, or has the flow simply been redirected? How can we be sure that the next nine years will be different?

Failed coalitions

Behind the DA slogan of 'one South African for all', lies a heap of failed coalition governments in Tshwane and in Nelson Mandela Bay. Nor has the DA covered itself in glory over its handling of the Patricia de Lille matter. That affair is a whole manifesto of its own. The allegations of graft related to the DA's management of the Cape Town water crisis, has left a bitter taste in the hungry mouths of the nation.

When taken together with the exiting of Lindiwe Mazibuko and the alleged silencing of Mbali Ntuli, the De Lille affair speaks of a party that continues to struggle with race and gender. The silence of the DA manifesto regarding how it intends to fix the coalition mess and how it will deal with the race and gender power dynamics within the party and within the country, is deafening. More of these and less obsession with ANC foibles, could help endear the DA to the voters.

EFF limping without Zuma crutch

Without the Zuma crutch, the EFF seems to have been limping and hopping around. The still-unfolding VBS corruption allegations against some EFF leaders are extremely damaging to a party which has made its name by standing against against corruption in favour of constitutionalism.

Although Pravin Gordhan is neither an angel nor the paragon of virtue that he is sometimes made out to be in some sections of the media, the EFF's strenuous efforts to turn Gordhan into the new Zuma have so far failed to gain traction. Nor have they managed the Ramaphoria with the same astuteness with which they stemmed the tide of the Zunami.

Days of wonder

My dear South African voters, have mercy on Inkatha Freedom Party. Please don't take the IFP to the Human Rights Commission for delaying and denying 90-year-old Mangosuthu Buthelezi some well-deserved rest and retirement. Whatever you do, please don't make Mosiuoa Lekota cry the river he cried at a recent press conference.

In these days of miracles and wonder, you must study carefully the manifestos behind the manifestos of the Zuma fallout parties, the ATM, the ACM and the BLF. Keep an eye on the Purple Cow, recently seen roaming the streets, feeding on the election posters bearing the pictures of the children of other mothers.

In the 2019 elections, do not seriously take every word that comes spewing out of the foaming mouths of party leaders. The VBS and Eskom heists as well as the Nugent, PIC and Zondo commissions may be the real manifestos of the 2019 elections.

Last but not least, the lists. Some parties could not help but abuse the privilege given to them by our antiquated electoral system, by including a number of questionable characters in the list of names submitted to the IEC for inclusion in the Provincial and National Assemblies. This is one of the earliest and clearest indications of what the political parties will do with the trust invested in them.

Compatriots, these elections are about two things: trust and trust. In this days when so much trust in government and political parties has been eroded, which politicians and which political parties – provincially and nationally – do we dare to trust, how much and why? Secondly, these elections are about whether there is a single political party we trust enough to award it more than 50% of our vote.

And so my fellow South Africans, before you approach the voting booth, come, let us make an effort to understand the manifestos behind the manifestos.

- Professor Tinyiko Maluleke is Senior Research Fellow and the Deputy Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria. Follow him on Twitter: @ProfTinyiko

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