ANC: stirred but not shaken

At another newspaper, we ­designed a cover in green black and gold, and tore it as if the earth had shifted.

That was when Cope split off from the ANC and we in the punditry got our ­predictions so very wrong.

We read into it a tectonic shift in the body politic, the ­fundamental fracture to reduce the ­governing party’s hegemony.

Well, look where Cope is now! Most of it right back in the ANC – its flailing bits raising a tattered yellow flag.

I’m not about to make that mistake twice by joining the analysts who are making wild predictions of tectonic plate shifts again or of a coalescing middle-class opposition vote.

Yes, Helen Zille and the DA have run a brilliant campaign ­choreographed to peak perfectly.

It has been energetic and ­targeted, and strategically coherent. Zille, who cut her teeth in the broad ­democratic movement, knows well that the ­traditional opposition message does not work in South Africa.

Black South Africans don’t, generally, want to be in opposition to a liberation movement, which is why Cope crashed.

The DA’s campaign of incumbency and good governance, summarised as “Look what we did in Cape Town – this is what we can do for you”, has won it new ­support.

Its image as non-racial, tekkie and T-shirt clad cut through the crusty Anglo-Saxon look that used to define the party.

It will make new gains and possibly some of it among black voters.

But don’t expect the earth to move on Wednesday.

The ANC’s elections brains trust expects a lower percentage win than in 2009, but believes it will retain a ­similar majority. That seems about right.

This despite the governing party’s ­disastrous campaign, which had little of the ­panache it has become famous for.
 
Nationally, it has been forced on to the back foot by the DA, which co-opted the most positive symbols of the struggle, such as founding president Nelson ­Mandela, Kliptown’s Freedom Square and the promises of freedom.

The ANC ran an opposition campaign and its gaffes on toilets and candidate ­selection saw it resort to populism.

What else is the showy toilet-building episode overseen by plumber Julius Malema in ­Viljoenskroon?

Or the rash announcement that it will fire candidates who got onto the lists by stealth and crookery the day after the election?

Or Jacob Zuma’s stump talk that the ancestors would punish those who don’t vote ANC?

And, faced with a tough election, it did what all governments do; it used incumbency to dole out the goodies.

Title deeds in Krugersdorp, bicycles in Limpopo, ­public works in KwaZulu-Natal, emergency hospitals and new clinics in Gauteng, toilets in DA-run Midvaal.

South Africans are generally a feisty bunch so I don’t think the impatience, the ­protests and the hectoring we saw on the hustings will translate into radically altered voting patterns.

Ahead of the 2009 election, the same pattern was evident, but voters then turned in a big majority for the governing party.

Statistics show the party has extended electricity, water and other ­infrastructure.

It has suffered most pain for joblessness which is a structural impediment and not anything the state can remedy on its own.

But its biggest election ­ticket is the ­social grant paid to about 10 million adult South Africans and five million children.

Not all of these people vote ANC, but they make up a ­substantial number of the 23 million ­registered voters.

Remember, too, that the provinces with some of the highest numbers of registered voters – the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo – are not tightly contested hot spots.

The key lesson of Cope’s demise is that the black middle class is still largely ­invested in the ANC.

Many of those who defected back during this campaign were ­motivated by lifestyle and job security needs rather than principles. My verdict: the ANC is stirred, but not shaken.


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