/ 17 April 2009

IFP on the skids

Jacob Zuma's Zuluness hurts IFP fortunes in KwaZulu-Natal. Niren Tolsi reports.

Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, the IFP’s KwaZulu-Natal premiership candidate, unveiled plans for her first 100 days in office this week. She must have felt like Cassandra, the Trojan princess cursed by the sun god, Apollo, so that her prophecies were never believed.

Magwaza-Msibi outlined an eight-point plan of action for the province that included mentorship programmes for underperforming civil servants in municipalities and forensic audits of various government departments.

But surveys are projecting more electoral losses for the party on April 22, while analysts say her chances of leading the provincial government are slim — especially in the face of a well-oiled ANC campaign spearheaded by the party’s president, Jacob Zuma.

The most recent Ipsos Markinor survey predicts the IFP will get a mere 11.7% of KwaZulu-Natal’s 4.4-million votes — a devastatingly small percentage that highlights the party’s inability to arrest the downward trajectory in its electoral fortunes since 1994, when it garnered 10.54% of the national vote and won KZN with 48.58%.

The pervading sense is that, if the IFP remains on its current course, it will eventually disappear from the political landscape. But Koos van der Merwe, IFP chief whip in the national legislature, is dismissive of surveys, saying they are urban-centred.

”A large portion of our support is in rural areas, where is it difficult to carry out these surveys,” he said, adding that pollsters’ error margin in previous elections had been as high as 65%.

Yet it is exactly these rural areas that are predicted to show a shift away from the IFP towards the ANC, giving the latter confidence in setting a 60% electoral target in the province.

Independent political analyst Protas Madlala says the ANC government has broken the IFP’s feudalistic grip on Zulu social structures through legislative reform and its own brand of ethnic mobilisation via Jacob Zuma — the unashamedly ”100% Zulu-Boy” polygamist.

The amakhosi are considered instrumental in how the rural populace votes and, through legislation like KwaZulu-Natal’s Traditional Leadership and Governance Act, they now draw salaries, receive pensions and qualify for houses from provincial government. ”They are no longer beholden to the IFP,” says Madlala.

”Also, Zuma has, for an ANC leader, unprecedented access to the amakhosi and is very close to the king [Goodwill Zwelithini]. The IFP can no longer cast itself as the guardian of Zulu culture and the ANC as a group of Xhosas out to destroy that culture as they used to do in the 1980s.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal political science lecturer Zakhele Ndlovu says that, with ”illiteracy high in rural areas and people less sophisticated, the Zuma factor militates against the IFP doing well”.

Whatever service delivery blockages exist, Madlala argues, people are likely to see them not as ”an inadequacy of the ANC government but as a creation of the white apartheid government”.

IFP secretary general Musa Zondi admits that it ”is very difficult to dislodge an incumbent government”, and told the Mail & Guardian the IFP’s election campaign is a stage in the party’s long-term growth plan.

Yet the IFP has so far been unable to navigate this long-term course conclusively. The presence of party president Mangosuthu Buthelezi has been a double-edged sword, Madlala suggests. ”The IFP has not come up with a succession plan that has groomed a leader with a profile that can grow the party on a national level. While Buthelezi has held the party together over the years — he is the IFP and the IFP is him on some level — he also comes with his own baggage of being an apartheid collaborator.”

Tellingly, while Magwaza-Msibi was being belligerently optimistic, Zuma was traversing northern KwaZulu-Natal, drawing more than 15 000 people to rallies in areas like Ingwavuma and Empangeni — long seen as impenetrable IFP strongholds.

The IFP has long downplayed the effect that Zuma’s Zuluness will have on the rural electorate. Analysts see as problematic denialism in the party, much like its revisionist assertion that the IFP fought apartheid rather than collaborated with the former regime.

Zondi says the IFP’s listening campaign invited citizens to contribute to the party’s election manifesto and that bread-and-butter issues concern citizens far more than ethnicity does.

”My sense is that people are reading manifestos and looking at localised issues. After 15 years of ANC rule, people are unhappy about many things — from not having proper access to healthcare to a lack of jobs because the local sugar mill has closed down.”

At a rally in Harrismith attended by about 2 000 people this week, IFP member Jeremiah Khubeka (54) — who has two wives and 18 children — echoes Zondi’s sentiments. ”We understand Zuma, because he speaks our language, but that doesn’t mean I will vote for him. For me, the government has failed: during apartheid they used to build matchbox houses, now they’re building half-boxes and quarter-boxes for people. How are they supposed to live like that?

”I want a government that will make education less expensive. We need government to be stricter with criminals and to start more roadblocks to stop thieves.”