/ 13 June 2013

Political parties will play on Mandela’s legacy

Political Parties Will Play On Mandela's Legacy

Even though they will do so at their longer-term peril. And his frail state will do little to deter them.

"The [Democratic Alliance] will juxtapose [President Jacob] Zuma against Mandela, and push the point that this is not the party that Mandela fought for," said Alexander Beresford, who specialises in South African politics at the University of Leeds.

"The ANC will play the 'do it for Madiba, one last time' card; that will be the subtext."

Analysts concur on the challenges faced by the ruling party and its opposition: the ANC needs to stem the apparent outflow of supporters disillusioned by everything from corruption scandals to poor service delivery, while the DA must appeal to black voters. For both, as well as for fringe parties, Mandela's legacy will be a powerful tool in 2014.

"The broader context is that of an election taking place exactly 20 years after the advent of democracy," said political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi. "It will be a historic and symbolic election. The symbolism of Mandela will be amplified by that fact."

How smaller parties will attempt to make use of that symbolism is not yet clear, but the approaches of the DA and the ANC seem inevitable.

The DA, with its controversial "Know your DA" campaign, is attempting to claim a share of struggle history, and has laid the groundwork for a repeat of its highly personalised anti-Zuma platform. It has already invoked comparisons between the two presidents.

The ANC, with a history of "do it for Chris Hani" (a line pushed by the South African Communist Party on the ANC's behalf), partly in response to the DA, has assumed the mantle of the only organisation that can build on Mandela's legacy.

Both parties' approaches are likely to come in for a bruising.

"The danger for the ANC is that it could look like a party of exhausted ideas if it keeps looking back to struggle credentials rather than forward to things like the national development plan," said Beresford. "The DA, reducing things to personality politics, may be seen as a party lacking any substantial ideological blueprint for a future South Africa."

For Matshiqi, the primary problem both parties face is opening themselves up to comparison with an icon, who, through his absence from public life, has become all the more idealised.

That could prove unflattering not only to the organisations, but especially to Zuma and to DA leader Helen Zille.

"There is a strong link between the identity of the party leader and voting patterns in South Africa," said Matshiqi. "The images of certain leaders may suffer more than the image of the party itself."

Potential public distaste at the use of an ailing elderly man to capture votes will only see political parties take a more subtle approach, the analysts said, as the potential benefits far outweigh the risks that the general mood will turn against them.

"It doesn't matter what the public thinks," said Matshiqi. "They [the political parties] will use Mandela as a prop in their political theatre."