SA’s election campaign all about Zuma, Cope

After an election campaign that has seemed to be very, very long, 20 million or more South Africans will go to the polls on Wednesday to elect a government for the next five years.

The campaign has seemed long, perhaps, because there has really only been one subject for discussion — the fitness for office of the African National Congress’s (ANC) president Jacob Zuma.

Because of the inevitability of his party’s victory, Zuma and his legal battles have been more or less the only way that opposition parties have been able to make an impact on the hustings.

The subject has dominated press conferences held by the ruling party as well.

The attention on Zuma has translated into a call from the opposition to deny the ANC the two-thirds majority that it would need to change the Constitution in a way which, until the prosecutors decided to drop charges, would have enabled the party to render their leader immune.

Aside from that, the main discussions have been about the economy, service delivery, poverty and crime. And the trouble with this is that the parties do not have very different approaches — at least publicly.

When the dust settles and the pencilled crosses are being made on the ballot papers, the votes will be cast according to which party each voter thinks will suit his or her own interests best.

Emergence of Cope
For the vast majority of voters, that will still mean the liberation ethic of the ANC. But what has made this election different has been the emergence of the Congress of the People (Cope).

The point about Cope is that it too has its roots in the liberation movement, its supporters are the same township dwellers that have voted ANC in the past, and who — even if they have felt betrayed by the ANC leaders — could not have voted for the largest opposition party, the DA.

Tony Leon, who built the DA from a party with a tiny handful of MPs to one with 44 at dissolution, allowed it to appear that the growth came from staunch supporters of apartheid and the National Party government, and nothing that his successor, Helen Zille, could do has been able yet to change that image.

The opposition party that during the past 15 years won the most seats was, of course, FW De Klerk’s National Party, which got 20% of the vote in 1994. It also won the Western Cape. Ironically, many of those Nats who did go into Leon’s party left it to join the ANC alongside Marthinus van Schalkwyk.

The second-biggest opposition party in 1994 was Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which has continued on a steady decline ever since, and thanks to a gerontological high-handedness seems likely to continue the downward path this time.

Voting on Wednesday is likely therefore to hold most interest in those black townships where Cope may be able to edge the ANC, and where the failing IFP will try its own form of the “fight back” that corralled so many white votes for Leon.

Thousands of extra security forces have been drafted into the already tense province of KwaZulu-Natal to ensure that the fighting back does not happen literally, and police chiefs have assured the country that they are able to stamp on any incipient outbreaks of violence there.

There is likely to be tension in some townships in other provinces — Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga for instance — where adherents of Cope and of the ANC may try strong-arming their opponents.

In the Eastern Cape the situation is further complicated by the ambitions of the former military dictator of Transkei, Bantu Holomisa, to stay in the business of democracy and salvage as much as he can of his dwindling support base in the United Democratic Movement.

The market research company Ipsos-Markinor, which has been churning out a series of analyses following its opinion polls taken last October and in February/March this year, reckoned that the Western Cape could end up with the most intolerant atmosphere, as a retreating ANC yielded ground to both Cope and the DA.

So far there has been no sign of this flaring up into actual violence.

Losing faith in the ANC
The DA is looking forward to a spectacular victory in the province, but Cope and the Independent Democrats (ID) of Patricia de Lille are also hoping to do well. The coloured voters far outnumber black and white voters together in the province, and seem to have lost much of the faith in the ANC that they had.

There is a good deal of resentment among the coloured population because they have not felt ‘black’ enough to have benefited from the economic empowerment of former liberationists, and this has been translated into support for the DA at recent local government by-elections. In Mitchells Plain last month the DA took an ID seat with a majority of nearly 80%. In Parow on the same day the DA won by over 90%.

The coloured people of South Africa have historically sided with their paler oppressors from time to time — for example in the Xhosa wars the coloured regiments in the British colonial army fought long and hard on the side of the empire.

Zille, reckons that Wednesday’s outcome will at least see her party in a position to head a coalition in the Western Cape, or just possibly to gain an overall majority. The most recent polls do not agree with the latter aspiration.

With the launch of Cope in November there was a feeling that they could rival the DA for the position of the largest opposition party in Parliament. Polls seem to agree that the two will be neck and neck, but a stumbling start to the campaign, with internal squabbles in the leadership, a weak compromise presidential candidate and an apparent lack of promotional finance seems to have hampered Cope’s impetus since then. — I-Net Bridge

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

SA needs more young people in politics

Young people are a critical demographic in South Africa, but their influence on national politics in the past two decades has been limited

2019: The ones who left us

From Uyinene Mrwetyana, Oliver Mtukudzi to Xolani Gwala, Mail & Guardian remembers those who have passed on

More battles ahead for domestic worker unions

Florence Sosiba, speaks to the Mail & Guardian about how important domestic workers are and exclusion in the COIDA

Why do people keep voting for the ANC?

The party is mired in controversy, but it has delivered basic services to millions of people

“Life has been good to me, considering where I come from” – Xolani Gwala

Just over a year ago, veteran radio presenter Xolani Gwala’s cancer was in remission. He spoke to the Mail & Guardian once he was back on air.

Kanya Cekeshe’s lawyer appeals decision not to grant him bail to the high court

Kanya Cekeshe’s legal team filed an urgent appeal at the Johannesburg high court on Tuesday against Monday’s judgment by magistrate Theunis Carstens.

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Air pollution link in 15% of global Covid-19 deaths

Researchers have found that, because ambient fine particulate air pollution aggravates comorbidities, it could play a factor in coronavirus fatalities

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

BMW X3 thrives in the M stable

The compact SUV is so at home with its new badge that’s it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday