An old Prog – a former member of the liberal Progressive Party, one of the precursors of the Democratic Alliance (DA) – told me a story about the 1961 general election, which was held on October 18, 13 months before I was born.
The fact that I was born a year after this general election is not the reason I found myself comparing a certain aspect of that election with this year’s August 3 local government elections. The African National Congress (ANC) told us in the lead-up to its manifesto launch that the whole of Port Elizabeth would attend the launch. As you know, most of those who were on their way to the ANC event changed direction and went to the beach because it was a very hot day indeed. As a result, the numbers that the ANC threatened opposition parties with failed to materialise.
The DA, which was never going to be outdone by the ANC, made similar threats. It said the whole of Johannesburg would be at the Rand Stadium to witness its manifesto launch. The blue tsunami failed to materialise. In fact, in some parts of the stadium, DA supporters were outnumbered by the banners of their party.
And then came the turn of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which was as grandilo- quent as the ANC and the DA when it similarly threatened that all Orlando Pirates supporters would be at its manifesto launch at the Orlando stadium, in Soweto. More than 40 00 Orlando Pirates supporters dressed in the red colours of the EFF turned up to hear Julius Malema promise that members of the South African army would turn their guns on the other commander-in-chief, President Jacob Zuma.
Those of us who are obsessed with numbers instead of policy issues declared that the EFF had won the battle of the manifesto launches. Since I am not too ungenerous in spirit, I am not going to remind the DA and the ANC that they were the ones who, without provocation from political commentators and journalists, regaled us with accounts of how the multitudes would descend upon their manifesto launches like a sardine run.
Back to the old Prog and the 1961 general election. He told me that the Progressive Party was, judging by the turnout at its election meetings, seemingly heading for a landslide election victory. He told me that, at all pre-election meetings of the Progressive Party, there was no standing room for the keynote speakers. He ends his story by saying: “Aubrey, in 1961, we won the meetings but lost the election.” In case you are wondering, the Progs retained their one seat in the National Assembly. Maybe, just maybe, if Mmusi Maimane decided to travel to the past, the 1961 result would be different. In the present, the EFF has won the battle of the meetings. Will it win the local government elections too?
The ANC has committed so many sins of incumbency that predicting the outcome of the August 3 poll should be very simple. In fact, the situation is so bad that only a renowned leftie, the Pope, should hear the ANC’s confession. If the quality of the ANC’s sins of incumbency are anything to go by, the ruling party should get no absolution from voters. I think, though, that the DA and the EFF should organise a séance and communicate with Pontius Pilate, who will tell them about how the masses ‘made’ him condemn Jesus and ‘forced’ him to free a notorious criminal.
In other words, will the ANC, like the second miscreant on the cross, enjoy eternal life after being crucified by political commentators, the media and opposition parties? In the last two local government elections, voters defied the predictions of political commentators, myself included, who argued that voters would punish the ruling party for its underperformance in the local State. In 2011, our predictions of the voter turnout were off by 10%.
Bearing in mind that ANC supporters do not turn up for local government elections as they do for general elections, a high voter turnout may favour the DA and the EFF. This may happen for two reasons. First, a higher proportion of opposition voters will turn up. Second, this higher proportion of voters may include people who, in the past, have voted ANC. My expectation is that the ANC will suffer further losses in support in the metropolitan areas. What I am uncertain about is whether it is the EFF or the DA that will benefit more if this happens. Also, while I am certain that the ANC will suffer losses in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni, I am not sure that these areas are as threatened as Nelson Mandela Bay. In my view, Nelson Mandela Bay will be too windy for the ruling party.