On a hilltop overlooking the Lucas Moripe Stadium in Atteridgeville are a series of white stones spelling out a message, broadcast to all who see it, bypassing such middling issues as connectivity or media access. “Vote” begins the sign, followed by rocks presumably arranged to tell the viewer where they should put their cross come Wednesday.
Except the rocks in the second part of the message lie in disarray, either by accident or human intervention. There is no advice to be found here, besides to just “vote” in the county’s fifth – and most confusing – national election since democracy.
This is what the best among us can say while the worst are full of passionate intensity – to misquote Yeats. Former intelligence minister and ANC stalwart Ronnie Kasrils and principled former deputy health minister Noziziwe Madlala-Routledge have spearheaded a “Vote No” campaign, designed to mitigate against the ruling ANC’s problematic hold on power. But their campaign has been unclear and largely unhelpful to the would-be voter. Don’t vote ANC but for God’s sake don’t vote for the business-friendly opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) either, says the left-leaning movement. Nor those “religious parties”, such as the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP).
But not everyone lacks conviction. Passionate intensity is the Economic Freedom Fighters’ (EFF) game: the worst among us, according to their critics, but a saviour of sorts to their many supporters. Julius Malema’s fledgling party gathers on this sunny Sunday morning in Atteridgeville, oblivious of the portent of discontent on the hill overhead. We’re the alternative to the ANC you’ve been looking for, they say, ignoring the doubts of Kasrils and others about the sincerity of their socialist rhetoric, given the charges of corrupt tender dealings levelled against its top leaders. The fighters, as the EFF supporters are called, carry mock cardboard coffins for the ANC and its president, the compromised Jacob Zuma. “Hamba kahle, butternut,” reads one in a less that flattering reference to Zuma’s appearance.
The river of red flowing towards the stadium separates into tributaries in the narrow streets of Atteridgeville and joins together again to well up against the gates of the stadium. Now it is a steady trickle: an orderly line waiting for the volunteers manning the entrance in faux army fatigues to let them through the turnstiles. But even when full the stadium can only hold 29 000 people. In Soweto 70 kilometers away, the ANC is hosting its own final rally at FNB stadium, which has a capacity of 95 000. Add the three overflow areas, which the ANC estimates at 68 000, and you’re watching a river of red versus an ocean of green, gold and black.
By 1pm on Sunday, the rally had yet to start as organisers waited for more busses to arrive: the usual big rally story. By Tuesday, all parties must cease campaigning. The DA had their final rally on Saturday, and on Sunday the ANC and the EFF go head-to-head.
“Tshela” shouts a man on the stage. “Thupa!” roars back the crowd. “We’ll hit you hard” is the rough translation from Tswana: a threat presumably aimed at the ruling party, despite what appearances and projections say about these voting results. The ANC will win comfortably – yet again. The increasing unhappiness with the party will only result in a slight drop. The EFF, most analysts agree, is unlikely to get more than 10% for these elections despite boasting of winning outright. Things have not quite fallen apart just yet: the centre still holds.
But the EFF has come remarkably far in the six months of their lifespan, from inglorious beginnings when Malema was ousted as the ANC’s youth league president. It appears to survive on volunteers, sales from red berets and mysterious donations alone. It’s not nearly enough to go up against the might of the ANC with its network of established business donors, not to mention its covert use of state resources to leverage its campaign. But the EFF is trying. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed.