Political parties tie their promises to lampposts

With elections on the horizon, political parties’ messages offer insight into their vision and leadership — and sometimes the lack thereof.

In what could be interpreted as a melding of ideas, the Democratic Alliance and ANC are involved in a handbag fight over the DA’s most recent campaign slogan, “One South Africa for all”, which the ANC used in a tweet as their own.

But a look at both parties’ slogans from the past illustrates sharp differences between their campaigns.

Of the six national election slogans the ANC has produced since 1994, four contain the word “together”, including this year’s tagline, “Let’s grow South Africa together”.

“It’s neither particularly innovative nor exciting,” says independent political analyst Daniel Silke of the ANC’s 2019 slogan.

He says the ruling party has been consistent with their slogans. “A call for national unity is largely implied in these slogans and, as the ruling party, they always tend to be constructive and positive and uplifting.”

In 1994 the Democratic Party, which later became the DA, led their campaign with the slogan “Freedom, federalism and free enterprise”, garnering 1.7% of the vote nationally.

“That slogan was lost on black citizens. They were worried about jobs,” says William Gumede, executive chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation.

In comparison, the ANC’s 1994 election slogan, “A future we can share”, was intended to be inclusive, so that people would “feel safe in togetherness”, he says.

“In 1999, ‘Together in every sector, fighting for change’ there was massive optimism among black people. For white people there was a lot of fear when Mbeki came in, this Africanist who was different to Mandela. White people were afraid that they would be left behind.”

At the time there was also poor growth and low levels of employment. The DA responded to this fear with their 1999 “Fight back” campaign.

Ten years into democracy and the political landscape had changed.

“In 2004 we saw the start of growth; we had BEE [black economic empowerment] and affirmative action. So the ‘Better life for all’ campaign was to rally and reassure black people that it wasn’t only the few, the elite who would benefit — the ANC was for everyone,” says Gumede.

The 2009 elections saw Jacob Zuma become president. He represented the workers, the rural, the “left-behinds” and the slogan “Working together we can do more” was an appeal to these people.

“By 2014 Zuma had lost some of that support — and he was no longer considered this ‘humble working- class man’. There was a crack that the 2014 slogan ‘Together we move South Africa forward’ tried to heal,” Gumede says.

He adds that the word “together” in the 2019 slogan is closer to Nelson Mandela’s “together” than the “together” used for Zuma.

“In 2019 we have people who were ‘born free’ voting in the elections. The demographic has changed and these people, some of whom are jobless and homeless, have no reason to vote for the ANC. ‘Let’s grow South Africa together’ is an attempt to bring back those who have been left sceptical,” he says.

Silke is critical of the DA’s 2019 slogan: “I find ‘One South Africa for all’ amorphous; it’s confusing and relatively weak. A slogan is the fastest way to represent the key issues of a party — this slogan shows the DA is not prepared to confront the ANC as it has before.”

Public relations specialist Suzann Prinsloo, of Purple Word Box, says the human element is missing from both parties’ election slogans.

“What voters want to see is a promise of a turnaround. They need to hear ‘back to the people’, because this is what is lacking from the promises of these parties — people.”

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