Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
16 May 2011

What about the “Steve Hofmeyer” vote?

This weekend I watched the DA’s final election rally on ETV-news and it was quite enlightening. The rally was clearly aimed at projecting the image of a party of the future that embraces people from all races and cultures. (The SABC decided not to broadcast this rally live, which probably means it was in breach of the law that requires it to treat political parties equitably during election campaigns.)

I also watched the ANC’s final election rally (this time on SABC) and it, too, was enlightening, as the ANC seemed to want to project the image of a party of the past, harping on about apartheid and what the ANC had done before and saying very little about how it will fix the mess that many municipalities find themselves in.

Tentative conclusions.

The ANC is much better at the razzmatazz of election rallies than the DA and its core voters appear to be more emotional  and enthusiastic – at least on TV. Packing the FNB stadium with tens of thousands of supporters was very impressive and until President Jacob Zuma started his speech, things were going very well for the ANC (with a little bit of help from SABC TV reporters who acted as if they were at a World Cup Soccer match, not at a political rally which they had to report on as neutrally and objectively as possible).

But President Jacob Zuma’s speech was once again a huge disappointment. Helen Zille is a far better public speaker than President Jacob Zuma, whose speech was – as usual – so boring that I was considering painting the walls of my house and watching the paint dry instead of watching him stammer through a list of achievements of the ANC in government that (although impressive) had very little to do with local government and the election at hand. The ANC’s election campaign seems to be based on the argument that the DA is a white apartheid party and that the ANC is not too bad at national level, so let us just forget local government and vote for the ANC in any case.

Helen Zille, trying to get away from the liberation deficit her party suffers from and from the linger perceptions created by past anti-black election campaigns, hammered home the point that the election was about local issues. Ok, there is the small problem with the TV add which turned out not to be entirely true and the claims about service delivery which might have stretched credulity, but she skirted these controversies and stuck to her guns, using three languages in an impressive display of respect for diversity. And she wore a nice purple dress, too, which would have made Lindiwe Sisulu quite envious (and reminded me of the witty slogan of 1989 after the police blasted protesters with purple water: “The purple shall govern”).

Pity about the often hysterical and self-righteous tone taken by DA spin doctors, who often seem incapable of rising above the pettiness and the selfrighteousness that has infected the DA in the past. The stubborn refusal to admit mistakes also remains a big stumbling block for the party and the management of its image. Sometimes logical aruments are not enough: one needs to manage perceptions and one needs to act humble, not only say that one is humble. If only the DA’s spin doctors and advisors could rise to the same level as their leader, quite a few more people would vote for the party.

In any case, as I was watching Helen Zille trotting out her best Xhosa and Afrikaans and the DA faithful dancing and singing for all they are worth, I was suddenly struck by a question which has not really been raised in this campaign. Would the DA lose some of its traditional support amongst right-wing white South Africans because it has been aggressively courting the vote of all South Africans – also those who are not white?

Will some of the “Fight Back!” and “Stop Zuma” voters (the Steve Hofmeyer’s of this world who are deeply racist and have given their vote to the DA because they perceived the DA to be fundamentally anti-ANC and anti-black) desert the DA and vote for the Freedom Front Plus, or will they stay at home, crack a Castle and put a tjop on the braai while they complain about the country going to the dogs?

I have no idea how such voters will react. I do know that quite a few white voters are deeply racist and might be put off by the DA’s inclusive new image. If I was a DA strategist I would not worry about this possibility.

Those people belong to the past. Like Steve Hofmeyer, who is famous for singing Neil Diamond cover versions (I mean, he was not even hip enough to choose Abba) and for singing an apparently autobiographical song about a Pampoen” (“pumpkin”), they represent a small minority with little political clout.

After all, if one ever wished to be politically relevant in South Africa, one would be advised to distance oneself from these people. But if these people fail to vote for the DA or vote for the Freedom Front Plus, it might shave one or two percent from the DA’s vote. Instead of 20% the DA might end up with 18% nationally, say.

I for one, will be watching the results to see if the Freedom Front Plus has been boosted by the DA’s turn to the centre of the political spectrum in South Africa. Once again, before the results start flowing in, I would not make any predictions about the final tallies.

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