Some observations about the election lead-up

I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.

The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.

In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.

I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.

Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.

(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at nic.borain@gmail.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)

Julius Malema

If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy –  fill your boots! ”

He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.

I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.

He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.

This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.

He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.

Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was  looking scary.

And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.

I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.

I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.

I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.

President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.

Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.

The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism

I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the  ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.

For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.

At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.

The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of  a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.

It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.

This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.

Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.

Helen Zille also rises

My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language,  is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.

Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.

Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes

I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.

There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.

The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the  Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.

Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?

I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.

The cacophony – let it stop!!

It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.

I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’  or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.

It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.

I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.

12 thoughts on “Some observations about the election lead-up

  1. pity – your whisky views would be quite refreshing – and small brown dog – i always assumed you had big dogs! –
    I get the ANC getting between 50-55% and the DA between 20-23% – time will tell – and the one question i sent to Cape Talk was how Tony would behave in the upcoming strikes should he be mayor – give the workers the 18% they’re asking fior or say no – we can’t afford it – hmm, rock and hard place space –
    And i could have banged on about Bordeaux and Rhone blends…..
    But how great is it that paid work interrupts? – brilliant!!!

  2. Those numbers look fabulous – I think you might be too low for the ANC (I would put them closer to 59 – 61 – although we are all sucking it out of our thumbs – going on instinct and hope) – but your prediction would be the ideal outcome for the country as a whole – I think anything below 60 gives the ANC a skrik – something we all need to happen. Working so hard I can barely think straight – great relief – we will exchange a sip of Ardbeg 10 yr old for some Bordeaux or Rhone blends soonest!

  3. Nic, maybe the bourgeois drinking habits that flow from paid work has taken away your taste for rigorous research. If the so-called ANC poster is for real, it would be all over the media as an example of a liberation movement turning racist. I don’t like Ju-Ju. I love him. You need him. The state of the collective mind of the capital-controlling minority and their intellectual lapdogs deserve him.

    1. Hmm … charming as always Andre … I found it here: http://www.facebook.com/african.national.congress which rather makes me think it unlikely to be a fake … but in this media – and especially social media – determined environment I remain sceptical until I see the ANC account for the printers … which is partly why I said: “I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it” …

      1. The ANC web page links to the (less popular yet) evidently more professionally structured MyANC:
        http://www.facebook.com/pages/MyANC/190104684357654?sk=info

        The Page you’re referring to is an individual effort, certainly not linked to the ANC office. Have a look on MyANC – the posters on display are of the quality that has become monotonously predictable since 1994. The ‘poster’ that you grabbed off the so-called ANC site (maybe Russel Crystal is the real owner) is a pathetic photoshopped caricature.

        Actually, Nic, I’m way too angry to have voted in this facade of a so-called service delivery election. But damn, I’m almost regretting that given the utter drivel coming out of the would-be puppeteers of the DA, not to mention comrades from an era of lost innocence. And yes, for that reason I – and quite a large number of others – are indeed warming to Ju-Ju (despite an ideological chasm). Moja.

      2. Thanks for that Andre – despite my apparent snippiness I do not entirely disagree with you … I don’t like the populism or the corruption, but I could never ally myself with those who assert we move ahead on a clean slate, as if Apartheid never happened – the smugness and self-righteousness makes it impossible for me. I genuinely think the DA is a useful force in our politics, and I like the cheekiness of them running on their record and the ANC panicked running on attacking the DA’s record – a bizarre reversal rooted in the ANC knowing how badly it has governed and held itself together and coherent in the face of the rent seeking imperative that has overwhelmed the structures and integrity of the party.

      3. The DA – difficult as it may be to believe to the blinkered wine-sipping stressed-out citizens of Cape Town’s suburbs – (still) does not offer solutions to township and informal settlement dwellers. A force for pressure they are. Not of significant strength, though. The COPE debacle set the country back, in terms of (a) creating oppositional democratic space and (b) creating checks-and-balances on the inevitable corruption that comes with the terrain of commanding majorities of more than 50%.

        The real (little) victory that may emerge from this election is the 10% poll in Mpumalanga (if early reports are accurate). Imagine the real poll when non-registered adults are included (5 or 6%?). I know a lot of 20-something people; but hardly any that are registered to vote or bothered to vote. That’s the democratic breathing space for a real upsurge in oppositional politics in the future.

  4. Loved the article – so keep on writing and sipping. You must publish the post election blog – hopefully yet more interesting reading.

    1. Thanks Carol – lovely to know you are still following “the old” country’s shenanigans – I am sure I will be reviewing the poll … probably Friday – things are going well this morning … just listening to national press conference from the Independent Electoral Commission (one of the better institutions that keep us on the straight and narrow – cheers and love to the boys (young and old)

      1. Home from working at Constantia Glen this afternoon [voted just after 7] and sipping CG 5 – complex yet delicate Bordeaux blend – bliss!

      2. Enjoy … for me it is work work work … but as you know after the desert of the last few years … that is a great relief – that all means I am barely drinking anything – let alone good whiskey or wine … but I am happy that you are enjoying after a successful vote

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