In the country’s biggest stadium, the ANC gathered a crowd edging on 100 000 people for its showpiece Siyanqoba rally, then gave them little inspiration and nothing to talk about. Above the FNB Stadium circled a small plane trailing a “vote DA [Democratic Alliance] May 7” banner, which was remarked on only because there was nothing else to do.
(Photo by Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
An hour away, in what was due to be a sideshow, the upstart Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) threw together an event less than 48 hours after it received permission to go ahead. And there, former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema showed why his former comrades consider him a threat.
In a rambling speech, Malema made wild accusations about the elder parties and the usual promises that last only as long as the voting station doors are open (the EFF will not enter into coalition with anyone, Malema swore). But he also touched on issues both obvious and superficial: Marikana, the DA as die wit gevaar, civil servants on the gravy train, and courage in the face of power.
More importantly, Malema kept his audience of around 30 000 enthralled for the entire duration of his speech, throwing out quotable quotes as he went.
By contrast, ANC president Jacob Zuma got less than 10 minutes into his predictable speech before people started to drift away, and within 30 minutes his soporific delivery had emptied a third of the seats occupied, just shortly before, by energetic and committed party loyalists.
(Photo by Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
In Pretoria, Malema had a rapturous response; in Johannesburg Zuma was described as “okay”. And it was up to the warm-up acts to provide the catchy, militant soundbites: the EFF as idea-thieves, the DA as the “party of white privilege”.
So with two days left for the undecideds – by all indications, a group large enough to swing a good handful of seats in Parliament – to make up their minds, Malema came out strong, Zuma came out dignified if absent, and the DA did not make an impression at all.
Two incidents on the day illustrated how constrained the ANC found itself compared to the EFF, despite its money and organisational skills.
Just before the ANC rally received messages of support and endorsement revolutionary in tone from its youth league, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) – each important to the current ruling party’s campaign in different ways – ANC rising star Malusi Gigaba had to ask for a second time that some banners displayed in the stadium be removed. The banners, he explained, could see the party get penalised for failing to honour a commitment with the venue organisers. And so, banners for, among others, the SACP, were pulled back so that the logo of a major commercial bank would not be obscured.
With the scene set, Zuma delivered his keynote address. He spoke of the various gains made by the ANC, listing numbers and statistics to little response. He spoke of South Africa’s place in the world, and the nature of its leadership on the continent, and nobody cared. Then, to wind it all up, Zuma listed those in honour of whom the vote should go: Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Solomon Mahlangu …
And as he harked back to his party’s legacy, the crowd, so disinterested in its current state or recent achievements, went wild.