Election 2024: Who should give and who should take?


Election 2024: Who should give and who should take?

South Africans no longer trust the ANC, but will there be a credible alternative for voters when they go to the polls next year? By PIET CROUCAMP.


LIKE many other analysts and commentators, I have often pointed out that 2024 is the first real opportunity since 1994 for a relative or even an absolute majority of South Africans to show the bravery to hand over the reins at the Union Buildings to people who are not directly attached to liberation politics.

It has also repeatedly been said that the corrupt ANC benefits from the inability of opposition parties to present themselves as a real alternative at the ballot box. The 2021 local government elections were the first credible “opinion polls" to show that South Africans had lost confidence in the ANC, but the same elections also confirmed our suspicions that opposition parties were in no way favoured by that development.

The media are now speculating that the Multiparty Charter is looking for a single presidential candidate and that former FirstRand chairperson Roger Jardine is being considered as a compromise to replace the leaders of the charter's political partners. There is already agreement between them that after the 2024 elections, the presidential candidate will not necessarily come from the largest party. Although Jardine has been in direct contact with John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille, it could also be that the DA leadership is playing to party  funders rather than taking Jardine's candidacy seriously.

In fact, it is only the DA that is seriously considering the idea of Jardine as a presidential candidate; the other members of the charter are not interested. It is uncertain whether the leaders of the charter's smaller partners have a specific problem with Jardine or whether it's the principle of someone from outside the initial agreement that is the stumbling block.

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Too-soon Jardine

What I do know, however, is that whoever came up with this idea has a poor understanding of politics and more specifically South African politics. Let's be honest, Jardine's skin colour is wrong. South African elections are identity-driven, so in a decade or three he may well be a realistic candidate, but as the teenagers like to say, it's too soon. Like Steenhuisen, Jardine will not be the next president, take my word for it.

Jardine's market-oriented credentials are theoretically exactly what South Africa needs, but the ideology that represents his experience in business does not have the credibility to motivate less affluent voters in a national election. With that said, in Lesotho, businessman Sam Matekane was able to form a political party and win a national election seven months later. So, it can be done, but Jardine is no Matekane.

If I understand correctly, Jardine's candidacy is being promoted by an interest group in the business sector and as much as R1 billion is available for a campaign to “sell him" to the electorate. Behind-the-scenes money can't always compensate for inherent flaws. The pressure on the economy is enormous, we all know and understand that, but in a demographically complex country such as South Africa the economy is unfortunately only one of a host of factors that influence voters' decisions on polling day.

We've seen this movie before. On January 28, 2014, the DA announced that Mamphela Ramphele of Agang would be the party's presidential candidate for the elections scheduled to take place on May 7 of that year. The logic then was that Zille's identity would not favour the party at the polls, especially if the DA hoped to draw black voters. This is despite Zille taking the Western Cape from the ANC in the 2009 elections and being seen as an excellent political manager in that era. A few days later, the DA's relationship with Ramphele was in tatters.

Mmusi Maimane succeeded Zille and became leader of the DA on May 10, 2015. He survived until October 2019, when he resigned. It's hard to say why he never came to maturity as a national leader. He modelled himself on the political identity of Barack Obama but perhaps his pastoral mannerisms did not speak to the DA's liberal funders. He, like most other black leaders who left the DA, went out the back door with resentment on his lips. 

It's not as if the DA isn't exploring diverse permutations for after next year's election and in the interests of South Africa. Qaanitah Hunter, political editor of News24, tells me she is aware of discussions between the DA and the ANC to form a coalition that will give one of the parties a “controlling share" in the National Assembly (probably the DA), and the other party (probably the ANC) would then take control of the executive.

If the ANC gets only a relative majority in the National Assembly that cannot become an absolute majority through agreements with smaller parties, then an agreement with the DA becomes a potential reality, especially if Cyril Ramaphosa prefers not to deal with the EFF. This is an unthinkable and probably an unworkable model, but it is still less frightening than a political agreement between the ANC and the EFF.

Manipulating the political current

The main political variables that will determine the 2024 outcomes are load-shedding, unemployment, crime and perceptions of corruption. However, in the 2024/25 budget, finance minister Enoch Godongwana will give Eskom and the ANC the money to keep the lights on until after the elections. And in ANC-controlled Gauteng, Premier Panyaza Lesufi will make sure Soweto's power is on 24 hours a day. Electricity is the one variable that the ANC can and will manage to its advantage.

Minister Gwede Mantashe is already putting pressure on mines and capital owners to postpone any retrenchments related to the collapse of Transnet until after the election, and the president's weekly newsletters claim successes in terms of Chief Justice Raymond Zondo's recommendations that sound good rather than being true.

Electricity is therefore the only variable that the ANC controls when it comes to the manipulation of conditions leading up to the elections, because unemployment and corruption are structural problems without short-term solutions.

The role of the media in highlighting the realities of the ANC's corrupt governance cannot be underestimated. As far as the media is concerned, the ANC has already lost the battle for public opinion. South Africans simply no longer trust the ANC to save them from poverty and the country from decay, and the media's part in driving this reality home cannot be overstated.

The question now is, can the nature and spirit of media discussions convince South Africans there is an alternative to the ANC at the ballot box? Almost without exception, the media is rightly sceptical of opposition parties. With the exception of its Western Cape leaders, the DA has lost the social media battle.

Analysts are supposed to be neutral, but this is an opinion piece and I see only one person with political aspirations who may be acceptable to a majority of South Africans, and he is Rise Mzansi's Songezo Zibi. For now, Rise Mzansi is keeping as much distance as possible between itself and the politicians of the Multiparty Charter, as Zibi quite rightly realises that any premature association with this grouping's identity politics would be a death knell to his own political ambitions. The party's media coverage is still immature but this can be corrected by good media consultants.

I hear that Jardine's financial backers are not completely at ease with Rise Mzansi's economic policies, but to be successful, the political and economic interest groups that want the ANC removed from government will have to meet each other somewhere in the political no-man's land and make bold political decisions with enormous economic risks attached to them. There is no blueprint scenario or solid consensus on “who should give and who should take" in the political economy, but that is exactly what elections are all about.

The ANC is corrupting the constitutional socioeconomic rights of disenfranchised people on a massive scale and is impoverishing them even further. At the same time, a political agreement driven by business will have to prioritise austerity programmes that, at least in the short term, will have exactly the same political consequences for people who depend on the state's social engagement with their poverty.

The obvious argument is that short-term pain will lead to long-term prosperity, but go and tell that to those living in informal settlements in and around the urban areas of Gauteng, then see how you fare at the ballot box.


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