Battle for mindshare rages as ANC elective conference looms

12th August 2011 By: Aubrey Matshiqi

The conviction of Schabir Shaik, President Jacob Zuma’s former financial adviser, on charges of fraud and corruption in June 2005 opened the door for the laying of similar charges against Zuma. These two events, however, opened the door for something else – the battle for mindshare.

The goal of every battle for mindshare is the displacement of political opponents and enemies. This is based on the recognition that the hearts and minds of critical constituencies must be stroked in a manner that delivers changes to the political environment that are prejudicial to the interests of such political enemies and opponents. In a democratic country such as South Africa, a free media is an important element of the strategy. In fact, the media is the main site of battles for mindshare. It is, therefore, important to use political narratives and images through which political enemies are depicted as ogres who roam the political landscape.

The best and most effective strategy is the one that turns individual journalists and groups of journalists into unconscious agents of political factions and extensions of political agendas. Because journalists are, in terms of their orientation, members of political communities – even if, formally, they do not belong to political organisations – there are times when it is necessary to either treat the media as allies or insulate deception strategies from detection by hostile sections of the media. Because the media is part of what Noam Chomsky refers to as “a system of propaganda” that is shaped by different forms of power, the battle for mindshare will, at times, entail the deployment of a manufactured consensus against political enemies and noncompliant journalists. In other words, the media may find itself in the middle of a crossfire, and some may even be hit by stray bullets.

In the period leading up to Polokwane, corruption allegations were an important part of internal battles in the African National Congress (ANC). Corruption allegations assumed strategic significance in four respects. Firstly, they were an attempt to create a ‘corrupt other’ or ‘corrupt others’. Secondly, in cases where this backfired, the accusers were portrayed as manipulators of State institutions, while the accused were dressed in the robes of victimhood with the aim of profiting from the sympathy dividend.

Thirdly, the judiciary, our intelligence services, prosecuting authorities and other democratic institutions were sucked into battles for mindshare, power and money.

Finally, the truth suffered the most serious injuries.

Are we now, 17 months before the centenary conference of the ANC, in December 2012, in the middle of another battle for mindshare? Before we proceed, are you not struck by the irony of those who were staunch supporters of Zuma when he was facing corruption charges but now scream corruption at the slightest provocation when, in the lead-up to Polokwane, all they wanted was to hide the word in a black refuse bag? They are now divided by the same thing around which their support for Zuma coalesced – corruption allegations.

Whether it is at funerals, political lectures or even the ninetieth birthday of the South African Communist Party, these people will not let the opportunity of serving corruption allegations against former allies to their audiences pass them by. Former allies are now ‘hyenas’ and ‘tenderpreneurs’ and Zuma is making fiery speeches against corruption. Obviously, all this is born of the realisation that, while corruption may not pay – the hyenas will laugh hysterically at this ludi- crous suggestion – corruption allegations have the potential to deliver huge political dividends.

So the road to Mangaung will be littered with the corpses of those who fail to survive these allegations or of those who dare to investigate the wrong protagonist. At this stage in the game, it would be foolish to buy designer funeral costumes because no one knows the identity of the province where the political funeral will take place. It is too early to tell whether one should buy apparel for a KwaZulu-Natal or Limpopo summer.

All I know is that, when the hatred is intimate, political enemies tend to spare no sacrifice and give no quarter in their attempts at obliterating obstacles to power and money. Talking about money, one of the most impor- tant lessons of Polokwane is that political success will accrue to those who are not misers in their choice of the Mangaung war chest.

Where will this leave the ANC and the rest of us? Because we do not matter, we might as well move straight to the ruling party. If my sangoma is correct, policy issues will not matter. Well, let me rephrase: They will matter only to the extent that they are going to be proxy arguments for things such as leadership preferences. Tell me this – Is it possible to put a political party on tender?