OPINION: The election machinery picks up steam

By Judith February

Disclaimer: a full stadium does not necessarily translate into votes. This past weekend the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) put on what can only be described as a very impressive show. First to launch its manifesto was the ANC, followed by the DA. The latter fared better in terms of attracting a crowd, but neither managed to fill a stadium. And so the media was on a curious ‘fill the stadium’ watch by the time of the EFF launch at Orlando stadium.

In terms of theatrical spectacle, the EFF did not fail to disappoint. The stadium was filled with a crowd who had gathered since early that morning. One person in the crowd stood out, holding a cardboard coffin aloft, reading ‘RIP Zuma’. The atmosphere was electric as Malema took to the stage; the Disrupter Supreme, the crowd lapped up his words.

One wonders what the ANC ‘Top 6’ thought while watching this display. It did not take Malema long to invoke his fiery brand of rhetoric of course. The EFF would nationalise the mines, take back 80% of the land without compensation. Eighty percent seemed rather an arbitrary figure, but never mind. Those standard policy arguments aside, Malema also promised water in schools, decent, spacious houses, flushed toilets, early childhood development and a raft of other things, some of which in fact are beyond municipal competency to deliver. And he encouraged supporters to engage in the ‘revolutionary act’ of having more children - an arcane idea if ever there was one. A Malema speech would be nothing without a few threats; to the Minister of State Security, to those accusing him of treason and to President Zuma himself. The rhetoric belies the fact that to do well in a local government election, it requires resources, organisation and connection with citizens in very direct ways. It also needs a raft of councillors who can indeed be transparent and accountable as Malema promised. Whether the EFF can pull that off as the ‘new kind on the block’ at local government level is the real question. But those were for another day. Malema simply plugged on.

For the rest, it was all pretty standard Malema fare, much of it unrealistic, much of it dangerous. The attack on the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was perhaps the most blistering and potentially worrying when he said the IEC “continues to rig elections… you stole our votes in Alexandra and we allowed you”. Of course, this is unsubstantiated, yet can inflame an already volatile political landscape in certain parts of the country. As the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (Casac) said in a statement, “It is ironic that the EFF has chosen to attack the IEC in this manner so soon after going to great lengths to safeguard the independence, power and authority of another Chapter Nine body, the Public Protector. The Constitutional Court judgment in the Nkandla matter was a strong vindication of the importance of these independent constitutional bodies in our system of governance. It has been proven in the Tlokwe cases that where electoral irregularities are found the courts will intervene to protect the integrity of electoral processes.”

This hits the nail right on the head. Malema is no real Constitutionalist. If he were, he would not seek to pick and choose bits of the Constitution for his own benefit. Expropriation of land without compensation and nationalisation are not current constitutional positions. Yet, in a country with increasing levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty, Malema’s message predictably strikes a chord with the poor and marginalised. The ANC has increasingly lost its ability to control the narrative of South African politics in so many ways; beleaguered by its inability to deal with its unethical president and tied up in knots with indecision, it is looking increasingly weak and unable to reinvent itself. Our country suffers from policy paralysis and a vacuum of leadership and into such a void all manner of dangerous men (and women) can step. The ANC must be ruing the day it expelled the young Julius.

And so, the response of the state to threats to the ANC’s dominance has been a securocratic one, typically. Minister of State Security David Mahlobo again made several threats against civil society and political opponents during his budget speech last week - another sign of a weak and insecure state, seeking to clamp down on its own citizens. This was after all, the same week former Cosatu leader Zwelenzima Vavi launched a new workers’ movement. That’s been a long time coming. Quite how effective it will be remains to be seen. One cannot escape the irony, in a week in which the arms deal and Zuma’s ‘generally corrupt relationship’ with Schabir Shaik again came to the fore in the North Gauteng High Court, that it was Vavi and Malema who, in part, gave us a ‘President Zuma’. Can we forget that Vavi said of Zuma that he was an ‘unstoppable tsunami’ or Malema’s ‘kill for Zuma’? Both have much to answer for. It was clear from Zuma’s record in KwaZula-Natal and the Shaik trial that he was unfit to govern.

The North Gauteng High Court laid out the misjudgment by Mokotedi Mpshe last week in the so-called ‘spy tapes’ judgment. The ANC’s response was muted and the Presidency was again ‘studying the judgment’. Zuma now spends more of his time trying to avoid scandal and prosecution than actually running the country. Expecting the ANC to act against Zuma would be asking too much it seems given its own divisions. Yet, this judgment lays bare the pliability of Mphse at the time and the manipulation of state institutions.

Despite the tawdry scandals surrounding Zuma, the ANC will have to put on a brave face and battle the local government elections with Zuma at the helm. The ANC election machinery should never simply be written off. Last week Zuma appeared in Giyani to adoring crowds despite it all. Whether that ‘pulling power’ still remains in urban areas, with an upbeat DA and EFF champing at the bit in various places, remains to be seen. The EFF’s manifesto launch should have given the ANC a wake-up call, if nothing else. And for the rest of us, a taste of what demagoguery looks like.

August 3 will be an important portent of what is to come for the ANC and, by implication, South Africa.

This article was first featured in EWN dated 3 May 2016.


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