I AM already sick of the election. It feels as if it began the moment the last one ended, five years ago. That may be because living under a government run by Jacob Zuma makes time slow down. But it may also be just because the cheating that surrounded his slipping away from the justice system and being made president raised the questions we’ve been fighting about ever since.
Not many days after May 7, we will know everything, finally. That’s very soon. For the record I have made, in writing, the following wagers — that the African National Congress (ANC) will get 58% of the vote and the Democratic Alliance (DA) 22%. In another bet, I’ve said Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will win 28 seats in Parliament.
Now I think about it, that’s quite a lot. Truth is I haven’t a clue and neither does anyone else. I’m told the DA has the most stunningly accurate polling system, and that it updates every day. So they at least will know where to concentrate their efforts.
Last I heard, DA polling had the party at 25% nationally, over 40% in Gauteng, and the EFF at 11% nationally. But that’ll change as the ANC turns its baleful eye on the enemy and cranks up its considerable machine.
When it does, all bets are off and what matters most is that the fragmented but colourful set of opposition parties get their votes out. The point, as Steven Friedman so eloquently explained on these pages last week, isn’t that the DA-Agang SA merger didn’t work, but that in our electoral system, every fragment of opposition is in its own separate way a danger to ANC hegemony. If you merge, you remove choice for people who actively want to vote for this or that party as a way of telling the ANC they are fed up.
Whether or not the ANC is listening is another question. But you have to walk in the party’s shoes too. Imagine trying to hold a country like this together? And then, just when you need him, the president doesn’t pitch up, retiring instead for the weekend to Nkandla, the People’s Palace. Rumour is that he isn’t well, or is fatigued. Another that he is trying to help his son Duduzane escape a culpable homicide rap for driving into a taxi in his Porsche recently, killing a woman.
We go into this election with an ANC utterly divided over policy. I was mesmerised by an interview in the Sunday Times yesterday with Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, in which he sets himself, pretty much forever, as a defiant believer in the proposition that South African Airways can sustain itself if the government would only manage it closely and well enough. Unbelievable.
Philosophically, he would be prepared to spend just about any amount of money to make it so. It doesn’t have to be profitable, apparently, just sustainable. (A first-year economics essay question would be “You do not have to be profitable to be sustainable — Discuss”). I like him, but one day a poor man is going to ask him why money that should be building him a home and paying for his daughter to go to a decent school is being spent on an airline neither he nor she will ever fly on.
I say the ANC is divided because thinking like this (in public in the biggest newspaper in the land) is utterly at odds with the National Development Plan, which the ANC says is its economic policy leitmotiv. It’s been the story of the Zuma presidency. While he looks after himself, his ministers have done pretty well whatever they fancy.
The result? Much higher unemployment, administrative costs (the things the government controls like electricity, petrol, phone charges) heading for outer space, the rand collapsing, mining output crumbling as we have missed not one but two commodity super-cycles, rapidly rising food prices and increasingly violent service delivery protests all around the country.
I am not one of those ANC critics who want to see it run out of office. We are not ready for that. It has a legitimacy that no other party can match and I suspect it will be in government well past 2029, though in coalition. But it needs a wake-up.
I really hope Zweli Vavi and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa form a left-wing political party after this election. The country needs a clear leftist alternative, and for the moment many people are being fooled into thinking that the EFF is just that, but it isn’t. They’re extreme nationalists, cloaking themselves in long-discredited ideological gobbledygook. In my book, they’re on the right of the ANC. The last group of people to try this approach were the Pan Africanist Congress, and look what has happened to them.
My 22% national vote bet for the DA is as far as I can go. Not because of Agang, but because it is a huge leap from the 16% of 2009. I keep hearing they are targeting 30%. Surely not?
I am, meanwhile, most interested in Mmusi Maimane, the Gauteng premier candidate for the DA. He has been quietly ploughing his own field around Johannesburg to excellent effect and ignoring, in public at least, the games with Agang. If the party can score above 40% in the economic heartland of SA then Helen Zille will have found the authentic (home-grown) black DA leader she seems to crave. If I were the DA I would plaster the province with his picture and put it on the presidential ballot too. He won’t beat JZ, but the experience would be priceless.