Final rallying call before the polls

There are very few certainties in the upcoming general election except that it promises to be one for the record books.

And as political parties wrap what has been an uncharacteristically dull campaign season, the mood likely dampened by power outages, a series of fuel price hikes and the creeping cold of winter, the focus now shifts to pulling off the immense logistical feat which has come to characterise the South African election.

At the opening of the results centre in Pretoria, Sy Mamabolo, chief electoral officer of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), put forward some staggering numbers: 26.7-million voters, 22 924 voting stations, 189 000 volunteers and more than 60-million national and provincial printed and distributed ballot papers. These will go into 300 000 ballot boxes with voting conducted at 45 000 voting booths.

Although political temperatures are high, there have been few violent incidents in the run-up to the polls. Yet police minister Bheki Cele, speaking about election readiness on Thursday, said police were monitoring KwaZulu-Natal as a potential “hotspot” of violence on election day next week.

Battlegrounds

Gauteng remains an open contest. It is the province with the highest number of registered voters at 6.3-million, or 23.8% of the national number.

The province responsible for the largest share of the country’s gross domestic product is up for grabs after a large chunk of its population has been governed by the Democratic Alliance since 2016.

KwaZulu-Natal is another key province — home to one in five registered voters. The ANC consolidated its hold on the former president’s home province in the Zuma years, where it scored its best results in 2014, taking 64.52% of the vote. However, the recall of the former president last February may negatively affect the ANC’s performance.

The DA’s grip on the Western Cape, too, is tenuous. Its chief executive, Jonathan Moakes, was confident of an outright majority in the province, although its internal polling was showing a “neck and neck”
scenario, after factional rifts led to the formation of a splinter party under former Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille.

The Mail & Guardian understands that the North West and the Free State are interesting provinces to watch, with factional fighting within the ANC potentially affecting the party’s performance.

The campaigns

Campaigns peaked after the election date was proclaimed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in February. South Africans were spared the pain of gimmicks, which characterised the 2016 road to elections. Who can forget the “dab”, the ANC’s signature campaign dance that culminated in its worst electoral showing ever.

Instead, Fikile Mbalula, the party’s head of elections, said “wall-to-wall” campaigning was more crucial — the “razzmatazz” would feature at the end. Mbalula said a stark difference this time was the ANC’s reliance on research, which informed its approach to the campaign.

Both the ANC and the DA relied on endorsements from their former leaders to draw out their base and loyal supporters.

Former president Thabo Mbeki campaigned for the ANC for the first time in 12 years and Kgalema Motlanthe — also a former president, whose criticism of the ANC in recent years was arguably more fierce than any other party loyalist — also urged voters to vote for the party.

The DA’s campaign had to counter a push by the Freedom Front Plus, whose “Slaan Terug” campaign was reminiscent of the DA’s “Fight Back” under former leader Tony Leon. Leon and Western Cape premier Helen Zille campaigned in old DA strongholds, particularly in Gauteng. The DA seemed to take its opportunity at gimmicky campaigning, erecting statues of the controversial Gupta brothers at the church that was the ANC’s birthplace in Bloemfontein.

The Economic Freedom Fighters campaign, too, was relentless, with its leaders visiting most provinces but concentrating on Gauteng, the North West and Limpopo.

New political parties

The IEC announced that a record number of new political parties was set to contest the election — 48 parties will be on the national ballot, 19 more than in 2014.

ANC insiders have expressed concern that the presence of Zuma allies in a number of “new” parties contesting the polls is intended to fragment the governing party’s support and draw his backers to voting for the new formations. Black First Land First is one example. The African Transformation Movement (ATM), which was joined by Gupta ally Mzwanele Manyi, is another.

The new parties to the political space are hard to track or poll as they are yet untested, but it’s instructive to note that of the 29 parties that contested the 2014 election nationally, less than half made it to Parliament.

The final push

It may just boil down to personalities in the key battlegrounds as the campaigns wrap up with the usual show of force by political parties in their final rallies over the weekend.

The ANC is relying on Ramaphosa to pull out their loyal voters — he will be addressing the party’s Siyanqoba Rally at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Sunday.

DA Gauteng premier candidate Solly Msimanga has had a lacklustre campaign, but party leader Mmusi Maimane is set to headline at the party’s final rally at the Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.

EFF leader Julius Malema drew hundreds of supporters for the party’s May Day rally in Alexandra this week. The EFF is taking its final rally to Soweto, looking to fill up stands at Orlando Stadium, also on Sunday.

Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller and blag artist.
Natasha Marrian
Natasha Marrian
Marrian has built a reputation as an astute political journalist, investigative reporter and commentator. Until recently she led the political team at Business Day where she also produced a widely read column that provided insight into the political spectacle of the week.
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