The three main parties in the country had to come up with inventive ways to stay relevant and in the public eye while not being able to hold conferences and public rallies.
How to execute their political functions and duties without putting themselves and their constituencies at risk of contracting Covid-19 was a big problem South African politicians and political parties were faced with this year.
Undoubtedly, the virus has caused great disruption and forced changes in the way all of us experience day-to-day events, including political entities that previously thrived on large gatherings and interactions.
City Press looks at the way South Africa’s top three political parties have been impacted, which of them adjusted the fastest to the “new normal” and how they could continue to function going forward.
The governing party was fortunate enough to hold its agenda-setting annual January 8 celebrations before Covid-19 hit our shores and the country was essentially shut down in March.
However, this was not the case for some of the ANC’s other scheduled high-profile elective and strategic planning engagements.
The ANC Youth League’s national executive committee (NEC) was disbanded in July last year, and a task team was appointed to oversee the running of the organisation and convene an elective congress as a matter of urgency.
To this effect, the task team was meant to conclude verification of branch structure around July or August, so that the congress could be held towards the end of this year, but this did not materialise due to Covid-19 restrictions.
As a result, the task team announced in October that the elective congress will be held before the end of January.
The ANC now appears to have no choice but to race against time to elect a youth league before next year’s local government elections. Although it won last year’s national elections, analysts concluded that had the party had a strong and effective youth league in its ranks, its margin of victory would have been far greater.
Another major disruption saw the ANC’s much-anticipated national general council also being canned this year.
It was initially scheduled to run from June 26 to 30. It was then rescheduled to take place between July 30 and August 3 and later postponed to early next year.
Held midway between party conferences, the council is convened to discuss the strategic organisational and political issues facing the movement.
There was, however, much more anticipated for this year’s council, which was expected to be a battlefield for the warring factions with the party.
There has been growing discontent within the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa, mostly about its inability and/or reluctance to implement several of the resolutions made at its 54th national conference in December 2017 in Nasrec.
As a result, the radical economic transformation slate, comprising a group thought to be led by ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, was expected to oppose Ramaphosa and request an early election to oust him.
Beyond its disrupted party programmes, the ANC remains relevant, given that most of its ministers were at the forefront of planning and implementing actions to combat Covid-19.
As minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had wide-ranging powers during the state of disaster that Ramaphosa announced in March by Ramaphosa. It was extended a few times and remains in place.
She was authorised to implement regulations that were not subject to parliamentary scrutiny and which have since been declared unconstitutional, such as the prolonged ban on the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and Police Minister Bheki Cele were also in the thick of things, coordinating the health strategies and ensuring compliance with the regulations, respectively, during the lockdown.
According to numerous polls conducted this year, both ministers received high approval ratings at the onset of the pandemic.
However, as the rot within the governing party became increasingly visible during the lockdown, particularly in the fraud involving personal protective equipment and food parcels, public support turned to widespread opprobrium and anger.
Unlike other parties, who repeatedly postponed many of their most important and long overdue engagements during the lockdown, the DA adapted most quickly to the situation and held both its policy conference and elective congress virtually.
While the party’s policy resolutions and elective conference were mired in controversy, holding the events virtually set a precedent for the way political party events can be hosted in future – at least until the Covid-19 virus is safely under control.
Apart from a few complaints leading up to the two events, the DA managed to pull them off without a hitch.
As the official opposition, the party also found new ways of holding government to account.
Then DA interim leader John Steenhuisen quickly put together the party’s twice-weekly broadcast called Coronacast, which was streamed on the party’s Facebook page. Podcasts were also created by other members of the DA to keep members informed of Covid-19 developments and create platforms for expressing dissatisfaction with government’s handling of the pandemic.
While still considered a wild card by many in the political spectrum, relying on only four or five points of contention with the ANC to arouse indignation among its followers, rather than presenting a sustainable, comprehensive strategy that includes areas such as international relations and attracting foreign investment, the red berets have certainly been inventive in repositioning themselves to take full advantage of digital technology during the lockdown.
The party’s primary outlet has been social media, particularly Twitter, which it has used to unleash a regular stream of invective against the ANC, the DA and the often ill-defined entities it perceives as white colonial vanguards engaging in acts of exploitation and racism.
In doing so, the EFF has taken full advantage of global movements like #BlackLivesMatter to inflame its supporters, augmenting this with physical demonstrations staged in places like Senekal, outside Brackenfell High School in Cape Town and outside branches of retailer Clicks in various parts of the country.
The effect has been voluble, disruptive and volatile, but seldom productive in furthering the aims of the party or appealing to the logic, rather than the latent rage and frustrations, of young voters.
The party has been able to continue streaming most of leader Julius Malema’s firebrand media briefings virtually.
The EFF has also adopted an intermediary role for reporting racially based workplace disputes and abuses of women and children, particularly in instances where existing legal avenues fail to respond adequately.
However, it remains to be seen whether the party’s propensity for invective, street violence and sloganeering will translate into solid electoral support.