May elections: Strange times

2019-02-27 06:01

THE 2019 general elections are poised to be a battle between the ANC and the EFF; the proverbial David and Goliath scenario.

The elections will be about how much better the Ramaphosa-led ANC will perform and how much reward the EFF will attain for all the noise it has been making since the 2014 elections.

A shocking feature of the build-up to the May 8 elections is the poor showing by South Africa’s most experienced opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). Unfortunately for the DA, electoral growth is becoming increasingly elusive and it will need to aim to at least maintain its current electoral hold.

There are several strange things about the election build-up. The two political parties that have been under public pressure regarding their positions on corruption, stand to do well. The ANC is battling allegations of corruption as revealed in various inquiries that are under way but despite this, it recently polled above 60%, which means it will maintain its electoral hold. It also means that everything that has happened in the country in the past nine years will not matter, despite Cyril Ramaphosa’s “nine wasted years” outburst.

The EFF has faced its own problems regarding allegations of corruption relating to VBS Mutual Bank. The party has denied that its senior members benefitted unduly from the VBS looting and its leaders are often in the spotlight due to allegations that they court controversial characters in society — such as alleged tobacco smugglers and so forth. Yet despite criticisms that it is not genuine about fighting corruption, the leadership of the party has held together in what they consider a hostile media environment. As the elections get closer, the EFF leaders seem to be focusing on how to discredit Ramaphosa’s agenda of clean government. Having become accustomed to mediocre opposition politics that flourished during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, the EFF had to quickly right-size Ramaphosa and find a way to discredit him. It went for the easiest spot: Ramaphosa’s relationship with the private sector. I won’t be surprised if the EFF files a class-action suit against Lonmin’s directors, just to drag Ramaphosa back into Marikana. Marikana was a tragedy that exposed a toxic relationship between political elites and the business community. With the suspicion that Ramaphosa is there for the benefit of his business allies, the EFF will be back on a single-issue opposition path.

On the other side of the opposition is the DA, a party that has not been able to find itself since Zuma left office in 2018. It has been preoccupied with internal squabbles; things that could have been processed better than was the case. For example, a regional matter relating to the removal of Patricia de Lille as Cape Town mayor became a national matter, begging questions about the party’s appreciation of non-white members.

The DA went to its 2018 elective conference a divided party on matters related to race as a factor in determining economic opportunities. It is also finding it difficult to explain its strategic interest in governing some metros through coalitions with the EFF.

However, if one compares the moral challenges confronted by the ANC and the EFF, the issues that the DA has been struggling with look minor. But there is no doubt that the DA must address the question regarding how to craft its identity as a party that can be trusted to govern at national level, beyond municipalities and one province.

If the DA was to find itself in power next week, my guess is that it would not know what to do. It would enthusiastically implement ANC policies while figuring out what it stands for.

Despite all of this, the DA should not be punished for these mistakes as they are lesser transgressions than the allegations against the ANC and the EFF.

However, failure to grow in the May 8 elections will mean that the DA will likely lose its legitimacy as the official opposition. And in the likely event of the EFF attaining more than 10% of the electoral support, it will have further serious implications for the DA’s standing as the official opposition. This will redraw the boundaries regarding what type of opposition politics is wanted by the electorate, and the EFF will become more influential in defining opposition politics in SA. And that will change our politics tremendously.

• Ralph Mathekga is a senior researcher at UWC’s Centre for Humanities Research, and author of When Zuma Goes and Ramaphosa’s Turn.

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