On manifestos and coalitions – some minor ruminations

PHAKAMISA MAYABA  / In the media, it’s called the political ‘silly season’. It reached a crescendo last week when Mmusi Maimane’s rather opaque party, Build One South Africa (BOSA) — or is it a movement? – and the NGO hub Rivonia Circle made a seemingly desperate appeal to the Constitutional Court to ease the requirements for party participation in this year’s election. Newcomer or not, the judges threw down the gavel and determined that there would be no exceptions to the new number of signatures that parties must gather, nor the deposits they must fork out in order to get their logos on the ballot sheet. No special treatment, not even for the new kids on the block. Game on, it seems !

Build One South Africa’s Mmusi Maimane. Image: Facebook.

(Editor’s note: Following the ruling, BOSA sent out a media release saying Maimane was going to make an announcement about the party’s future. As a result, journalists and others assumed he would say — much like Roger Jardine’s ill-fated Change Starts Now — that BOSA had failed to obtain the number of signatures needed to contest the elections. Apparently, this led to him being mocked on social media. However, Maimane had what News24 described as ‘the last laugh’ – speaking outside the IEC headquarters, he announced that BOSA had gathered 140 000 signatures, which was more than twice the required number to contest the election in all nine provinces. He added: ‘In each province, we have a dedicated team of coordinators leading hundreds of volunteers who are knocking on doors and spreading our message every day.’ But back to the main story …)

The fact that the new outfits have been pleading for mercy have not deter the selfies by old-time politicians popping up on social media. Nor the big-venue manifesto launch hoedowns. Three-meat plates of food and t-shirts for the gathered members of the underclass. Potholes being filled, pipes mended, bucket toilets miraculously replaced with flushing cisterns. Pretty soon we can expect the big guys to be out hugging the elderly, kissing babies and dishing out bursaries to our siblings. No Tintswalo should be left behind at this crucial time when every vote counts.

To much pomp and coverage, the high rollers have launched their various manifestos. Now their underlings in lower party structures – Colesberg being no exception – are out doing the legwork. It’s the every-five-years deja vu playing itself out all over again. And the one gnawing question is whether we will still be crying ‘unemployment, poverty, loadshedding…’ this time five years from now.

If there’s anything three decades has taught it’s that cronyism, patronage and rampant corruption have put paid to any grand government commitment to some egalitarian socialist utopia. Now that the comrades have nibbled on the sushi, pap no longer tastes the same. Perhaps the only hope citizens can cling to is that things couldn’t possibly get any worse. Could they?

With the walls closing in, the ruling ANC may have to reconcile with the possibility of sweet-talking one of its rivals into a coalition. This may sound like a good thing to those who would wish to see the party up against the ropes and punished – returning to Parliament limping, the smirk of invincibility wiped off their faces. But, what ought to be a far more bothersome concern is: What form might this new partnership government take? What trajectory would it pursue?

Nelson Mandela’s years are mostly remembered as characterised by a massive social welfare drive. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, is said to have been obsessed with neoliberal ideas and the establishment of a black middle class which he believed would then result in the pie of prosperity growing so as to accomodate more of the previously marginalised. However, the inverse was achieved; the black middle class grew to a point, and those in its elite ranks grew insanely wealthy while the rest were left to forage on social welfare. By the time Jacob Zuma took the reins, there was little earnest policy direction except on paper. Instead, patronage was revved up into overdrive, and hence today his tenure enjoys the unrespectable moniker of ‘nine wasted years.’ The incumbent, Cyril Ramaphosa, has largely been trying to to put out fires lit by those (himself included) who sat by watching as his predecessor went about his ways.

President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at an ANC rally. Image: MyANC Facebook page.

What we are sitting with now is a state run by a motley bunch of those trying to right yesterday’s wrongs on the one hand, and those who look to benefit if things stay just the way they are on the other. One cannot imagine any outright victories in such a toxic environment, certainly not for the lay folk. Hence we must be wary of the sorts of bedfellows the ANC would want to recruit in order to stay in government. The ANC’s 54th Elective Conference in 2017 was labelled as ‘a fight for the soul of the ANC’. The upcoming election will clearly be a fight for the soul of the country.

The first candidates who may warm to talks of coalition are no doubt the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). A former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema has been a thorn in the side of the ruling party since his expulsion in 2012. From his lavish ways to his fiery rhetoric, Malema is a caricature of the old-school socialist cadre of the ANC; roughshod firebrands like the late Peter Mokaba. Thus it comes as no surprise that the expropriation of land without compensation features front and centre in his party’s election manifesto. In his speeches, he tears into ANC leaders for having sold out on the dream of restoring the land to ‘its rightful owners’. Of course, those in the middle or on the right of the political spectrum will be unnerved by this, and so too will the ANC, which seemingly advocates a gradual land redistribution process.

Malema’s further calls for the ‘nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy’ (read: banks) will cause further problems for a political partnership. Axed ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule once tried to pull a similar move at a media briefing, much to the party’s ire. It seems Malema still has to let go of the defunct idea of the ANC as the carrier of Soviet-style socialism, because such hardline politics have long petered out inside the movement itselfr, replaced with an African capitalist orientation which looks pretty much as capitalism looks anywhere else in the world. Most importantly, this is exactly the worry that has resulted in the explosion of new parties: an ANC/EFF marriage is clearly worrisome across the racial divide.

Julius Malema (centre), firebrand leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Image: EFF Facebook page.

So what about Songezo Zibi’s RISE Mzansi, which, in terms of donations, has benefited the most from ‘white monopoly capital’? As Toverview has reported previously, we don’t know what to make of Zibi, save to say he seems the intellectual type; a thinking man whose manifesto featured some unusal issues (think climate change; not many have touched on that). On his campaign trail, he has stressed the need for an ideas-based leadership made up of capable people. Given the recent cadre deployment debacle, Khongolose seems resistant to such wisdom, and with Zibi’s leadership list featuring several youngsters, will it be Rooibos or Red Bull at the negotiating table?

The Democratic Alliance (DA), as you’d know, has repeatedly stated that it would never form a coalition with the ANC, right? So abhorrent was the idea that they reached out to a coterie of smaller, barely known parties to form the Multi-Party Charter, just so that they could meaningfully take on the ruling party . Well, that’s the script the whole country was reading from until News24 editor-in-chief Adriaan Basson and assistant editor Qaanitah Hunter threw a spanner in the works. According to their recent book, Who Will Rule South Africa?, there are secret talks between the ANC and the DA that would result in an ANC president and cabinet and the DA controlling the legislature and parliament. Of course, the DA has vehemently denied these claims, but one must wonder: what if, behind closed doors, the DA sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get its hands on some of the levers of power? It may never come again, so why not seize the moment and explain yourself later?

One could continue to hypothesise, but the remaining influential parties seem as dead set in their designs as the MPC. Other promising upstarts, namely the Patriotic Alliance and uMkhonto weSizwe, are potential game changers in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal respectively. The former in particular could represent the greatest threat to DA dominance in the Cape, due to its support among Coloured people. And who knows, even though it doesn’t really count as far as numbers go, the ANC may find itself desperate enough to woo General Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement. In the Eastern Cape, ‘Njengele’ (that’s General to you, dear reader) is something of a Churchillian figure, and as a family friend of the Mandelas, it may believe he could sprinkle some of that Madiba magic back over an ailing Khongolose.

FEATURED IMAGE: Democratic Alliance members putting up election posters in Colesberg. Image: eParkeni.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Phakamisa Mayaba’s website, eParkeni.


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