As South Africa’s political parties approach the final straight it’s yet another one-horse race, if the bookies are to be believed. The African National Congress, says the latest polls, is set to achieve close to the two-thirds majority that it has maintained for the past 20 years.

The opposition Democratic Alliance will apparently be fortunate to crack 24% — significantly up from its 17% in 2009 but about same as the 2011 local government election result and considerably less than the 30% it at one stage boastfully predicted. Among the remaining parties there will be some deck-chair rearranging but both newcomers, Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang and Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, will be disappointed when they inevitably fall short of their delusional predictions.

A reason why the ANC has managed its gravity-defying levitation, despite disillusionment within the ranks and derision outside them, is the power of incumbency. The ANC holds the goodies bag and has no hesitation dolling out taxpayer funded lollipops to keep the kiddies happily distracted.

One such a vote catching ploy is the recent out-of-the-blue government proposal that up to 50% of the farms they are employed on will be given to the workers. The ANC knows perfectly well that not only would this be unconstitutional, but also that it would be disastrous for food security and for the workers themselves, triggering a spate of pre-emptive retrenchments.

In similar vein, to reassure the wavering unionists in the alliance, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant last week unilaterally gazetted an extension of the textile industry National Bargaining Council minimum wage to non-member firms. Some 20,000 workers will now get the minimum wage, at least until their already financially precarious small and medium sized employers are tipped into bankruptcy, some time after May 7.

At the most crass level, it has been the distribution of state funded food parcels, blankets and T-shirts at ANC political rallies. The DA is taking the ANC and the SA Social Security Agency to court to halt this “grotesque and continued abuse” of taxpayer funds.

A variation on this theme are newspaper advertisements and roadside billboards paid for by government departments, such as those ostensibly lauding the service achievements of the Gauteng provincial government, but dressed in ANC colours and using minimally tweaked ANC slogans.

Such outrageous tactics, tried and tested by Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe, haven’t raised as much as an eyebrow at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). It’s not clear whether this zombie-like oblivion to contraventions of electoral regulations – the IEC doesn’t seem to have noticed, for example, that the EFF is less a political party than a paramilitary in the making, complete with officers, uniforms, threatening revolutionary rhetoric and a public vow to “destroy physically” the Gauteng e-tolls – proves that the IEC is coming under the sway of the ANC. Or whether, less ominously, it might just be the result of internal disruption caused by chairwoman Pansy Tlakula’s fight to hold onto her position, after being found by the Public Protector to have personally played a “grossly irregular” role in procurement of the IEC’s luxury offices.

The IEC has also studiously ignored a study released a fortnight ago by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (Case), which identified “the targeted use of government resources to promote parties” as a significant problem. More seriously, it also identified the ANC, as “the primary source” of voter intimidation and said that the ANC was manipulating voters “using misinformation and threats regarding pensions and grants, interfering with access to meeting facilities, assaults and threats of physical harm … the denial of jobs, contracts, services and developmental opportunities.”

There’s zero ANC embarrassment about any of this. President Jacob Zuma at an Eastern Cape election rally in January warned that voters who abandoned the ANC would “attract the wrath of the ancestors”. KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture MEC Meshack Radebe is more specific: those who received social welfare grants, but voted for opposition political parties, are “stealing from the government”.

Those cynical about South Africa’s democracy have long warned that the real test of its robustness is what happens when the ANC is faced with being voted out. It’s clear from the tactics it is deploying to protect a comfortable parliamentary majority, that it doesn’t intend ever having to face that test.

Or as JayZee put it: “We’ll rule until Jesus comes back.”

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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