The next general election in South Africa is still over thirteen months away but the country is already fast moving into election mode. With parliament officially starting its 2013 session next week Thursday, it can be expected that most important debates will be conducted by all parties with one eye on their day with the voters in April 2014.
That campaigning has started was already evident at the governing African National Congress’ national conference at the end of last year. Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president of the party, has since embarked on what was described as a countrywide “charm campaign”.
Last weekend, the leader of the official opposition Democratic Alliance and premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille, also effectively signaled that her party has gone into campaign mode.
At a function at Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal to welcome an independent and previously ANC councilor, Jabulani Chiya, to the ranks of the DA she clearly attempted to challenge the ANC’s branding as a “broad (political) church".
Referring to the fact that the name 'Umzimkhulu' means "Great or Big Homestead" and to other erstwhile prominent ANC member who has joined the DA, she said, “The DA is South Africa's Great Homestead. There is enough room for all South Africans in the DA, and all South Africans are welcome.”
She also took another leaf out of the book of the leader of the ANC, president Jacob Zuma, and used the Bible as a reference book. “When I read the name Umzimkhulu I was reminded of John 14:2 – ‘In my Father's house there are many rooms.’ That is like the DA - no one must fear that there is no place for them in the DA and more and more South Africans are beginning to see that,” she said.
Meanwhile back in her home province, the provincial leader of the ANC, Marius Fransman, used another religious card to attack Zille and the DA. In a statement he demanded that Zille and her MEC for education, Donald Grant, make an official apology to the Muslim community.
The reason for this is that a school in Kraaifontein, in clear violation of the code of conduct of the provincial education department, suspended two learners for wearing Islamic religious headgear with their school uniforms. After the intervention of the department, both learners have returned to school.
During the recent, and still simmering, unrest among farm workers in the Western Cape, there has been clear evidence of party politicking. The build-up to the election has also played a role in the controversy surrounding the upgrades at president Zuma’s family homestead at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.
With many uncertainties, among others it being the first election in which thousands of so-called 'born free' youth will vote, the ANC has become extremely touchy. This was evidenced by the disproportionate reaction to the recent controversial advertising campaign by First National Bank.
The ANC’s reaction might have been informed by the fact that it in essence confirmed a recent study indicating that about half of today's youth faced a lifetime of unemployment, making the party’s support amongst this new generation vulnerable. Surveys show that the fast majority of this group does not support any political party at this stage.
Although at a total of two million they will only account for just under 9% of the 23 million voters in next year’s election, they are set to grow to more than 33% when the 2019 election comes around.
There was also implicit acknowledgement by the ANC that their almost monopolistic hold on black voters is not all that secure as is perceived in their recent attack on the DA’s parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko. In their reaction, the ruling party claimed that her condemnation of president Zuma was due to her “naiveté about African traditions”.
Another sign of the fast-approaching election is the number of rumours of new political parties about to be formed. It first surfaced at the end of last year with a rumour that a new party has been registered with the Independent Electoral Commission.
The latest development on this front are reports that veteran Black Consciousness activist , medical doctor and academic, Mamphela Ramphele is about to embark on an active political role.
Over the weekend, it was reported that she said she was “entering politics to save her country”. Whether she is involved in the mysterious party rumoured last year, is not known at this stage and some rumours have it that she will be joining the DA.
It is, however, on the parliamentary scene that the most election politicking can be expected during the next weeks and months. It can be expected that the debate on president Zuma’s state of the nation speech, the likely 'no confidence debate', which was the subject of recent court action, the budget debate and just about every other debate are going to be acrimonious affairs.
During election times propaganda, rather than sober and balanced facts, play the man rather than the ball and expedience rather than the merits become the name of the game. It is likely to become difficult to distinguish between facts an hot air in the immediate future.