Finally, the starting gun has been fired, and the race is on for Elections 2014. It is now known that it will be on May 7 that South Africans go to vote. This means that for the next three months, everyone is going to go a little mad. ANC people, who are normally impossible to get hold of, will phone up journalists unbidden, Helen Zille will lose it slightly towards the end, and Julius Malema will lose it completely right now. But this also means it’s time to look not at the results of these elections but rather at the election campaigning.
The first thing to know about election coverage in South Africa is that the broadcasters actually have to watch the minutes and seconds they give to different parties. The Independent Communications Authority of SA will see to that. And they judge it pretty much on how the parties did the last time around. Does this give the ANC a locked-in advantage? Sure. Is it any different to say how the Brits do it…? No. There really is no other way. And before the Christian Democratic Party starts to complain, no, not all political parties are created equal.
This does mean you’ll start to hear from parties you’re not really used to. The ANC and the DA will, of course, get more airtime than the others, and Cope will get more space than they’re used to, and then…wait, anyone know who came next in 2009…anyone? Actually, it was the IFP. And if you live in an urban area outside Kwa-Zulu/Natal you’ve probably forgotten they exist. But they’ll be there on your radios and TVs for a while, loud and proud… or, at least, present and slightly ancient. So will Bantu Holomisa and Pieter Mulder. Yes, they are the only people you’ve ever heard of from the United Democratic Movement and the Freedom Front Plus. The rest will be relegated to those programmes that make a virtue of speaking to every party before the election.
The next thing to know, and perhaps the most important, is that the ANC campaigns late, and it campaigns hard. If they and the DA stick to their traditional campaigning schedules (and there’s nothing to say that they will: Fikile Mbalula is no longer politically important enough to the Zuma-ites to be in charge of the razzmatazz this time around), the DA will do the early running. At least in the urban areas. But the ANC will culminate its campaign, probably in a series of Siyabonga rallies. The biggest is most likely to be at the FNB Stadium just before voting day, if they decide that is the route to go.
In the meantime, though – and it might turn out to be important to mention this right now – the ANC hasn’t got off to a good start. You would have thought that as the one party who would have known in advance when polling day would be (considering that their leader gets to make the decision) they would really have hit the ground running. And on Friday afternoon, just a few moments after the announcement, it looked like they were. The party made public the “deployment” list of leaders who were going around the country, and particularly Johannesburg, to encourage “voter registration”. President Jacob Zuma was on the list, and was due to be in that city.
But instead, according to the Presidency, he “relaxed at Nkandla”. That seems odd, and quite frankly, unlike him. Not to relax at Nkandla, you understand, but to not be out on the hustings. The ANC then had to put out a statement apologising to the media and the people who had turned out to see him.
It’s really not like the ANC to start a campaign apologising to the media. It’s not how they’ve started these in the past.
Unlike Thabo Mbeki, Zuma seems to quite enjoy campaigning: talking to people, shaking hands, that kind of thing. And he does it well. So we have to ask if there was any special reason why he was not available. But, as always in politics everywhere, cock-up before conspiracy. So there’s probably nothing in it, but someone somewhere is about to ask if he’s sick.
However, expect Zuma to spend a lot of time in KZN anyway. He’s been hugely effective in campaigning for the ANC in that province in the past, and he’s very likely to continue where he’s left off. Bear in mind, KZN has become an integral part of the ANC’s strategy to keep its national voting figures pretty much where they were in 1994. (This goes to the heart of electoral Maths in South Africa: essentially, if the ANC hadn’t driven up its share of the vote in KZN in the last two elections, partly because of Zuma, then its share of the national vote would probably have dropped to around 58% by now. Zuma has been key to that growth in KZN.) KZN, and particularly its rural parts, are going to be crucial to the ANC’s prospects again this time around.
So, if Zuma is out in KZN, who’s doing the rural areas and who’s in the cities? Cyril Ramaphosa, of course. And we’ll make a bold prediction right here, dear reader. At some point someone will write a very worthy column about how Ramaphosa is so capable and comes across so well in your average Gauteng voting area, that the ANC should really just have chosen him to be its leader and Zuma should go and retire to Nkandla. But that will be missing the point that this is a country with a massive political divide over the urban/rural split, and that rural areas matter hugely in our politics. Don’t think someone, somewhere, hasn’t done the Maths and worked out that Zuma will garner the vast majority of the rural vote for the ANC while Ramaphosa will have to work hard in the urban ones. And, of course, when Zuma delivers in those areas, and Ramaphosa doesn’t (because of increased competition from other parties, and just the fact the ANC probably isn’t as popular in urban areas as it is in rural ones), that will be used in internal ANC politics against Ramaphosa and for Zuma.
So while all of this is happening, what is the DA doing? Firstly, even though it seems to have the Western Cape sewn up at this point, it’ll campaign hard there. And, if it’s possible, Mmusi Maimane will be even more energetic in Gauteng than he has been. One of the main entrances to Soweto currently has his visage displayed on a massive billboard, so get used to his face, because you’ll see it everywhere. But essentially, the DA will play hard in most of the urban areas, so places like Port Elizabeth (where the ANC won the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality with just two percent of the vote in the 2011 Local Government Elections) will have a huge DA presence. Still, in rural KZN, it’s going to have to play catch-up.
And then there are the Economic Freedom Fighters. Julius Malema will probably still get the award for campaign soundbyte of the year. In fact, he’s already in the lead with his comment to EWN that “this government has a policy of ‘Shoot the Poor’”. But he will be aggressive, insulting and rude. It’ll be more fun this time around, because it won’t be the “tea-girl” or the “madam” he’ll shout at, but Zuma himself. The media will lap it up. At this point, he does appear to be gaining more traction. Whether that will continue, it’s too early to say.
One of the easiest predictions to make of Campaign 2014 is that at some point there’ll be a huge fight over some decision made by the SABC. It’ll be about an ANC rally that was broadcast live, while a DA rally wasn’t, or a debate that Hlaudi Motsoneng pulls off air “because the ANC isn’t represented” as Jackson or Keith aren’t available. But there’ll be the usual cries of “political broadcaster” and all of that.
‘Twas ever thus.
There will also be, at some point, huge questions about where the ANC gets its money from. There’ll be some about the DA as well, but it’ll be the ANC that is more interesting. And no, I don’t expect any answers this time around either. Don’t forget, pretty much all the parties are equally sinful when it comes to this.
Oh, and one more thing. At some point, there’ll be a silly controversy. Not stupid – silly. It will revolve around something someone says, that someone else will claim is racist, or some act or proclamation that Zuma signs, or some piece of ugly thuggery the EFF partakes in. But it will lead to intense anger, and then amount to nothing in the end.
The sound and fury of a South African election campaign is quite something to behold. It will have the usual elements of government spending (this time on the 20th anniversary of 1994), emotion, and silliness. It will expose what our politicians think of South Africa, and then around May 10, we’ll know what South Africans think of them. But don’t forget the real political action, the dynamic that could actually change the country forever and ever, is not happening in these elections. It’s happening around NUMSA, and the idea of a workers’ party. And if that happens, the 2019 elections will be very different indeed. – Daily Maverick