Who you gonna vote for?

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa with his deputy David Mabuza.

If ever there was a measure of just how desperate things are for the major political parties right now, it was President Cyril Ramaphosa’s launch of the ANC’s election manifesto at the party’s January 8 statement jamboree, at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban on Saturday.

The undertakings and promises made – a number of which will never come to pass – suggest that this time, the ANC is going cap-in-hand to its electorate and begging for another chance to deliver its much vaunted better life for all.

Despite suggestions to the contrary, the ANC has achieved a great deal since 1994.

Millions of people now have access to potable water, sanitation, free primary health care, housing, and education among others, while the social grant system provides a measure of relief for millions of people mired in the most desperate poverty.

Nonetheless, these achievements appear threadbare in the face of prevailing economic, fiscal and social circumstances.

Unemployment sits at a shade under 40%, and among the youth cohort – 18 to 34 years of age – it is estimated to be at 51%, both at their highest since 1994.

Economic growth remains in the doldrums, despite every measure and programme implemented by government over the last decade, with the consequent impact on the three greatest ills we face: poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The fiscus is racing toward a cliff, with revenue falling far short of expectations, debt as a percentage of GDP on the increase, and the looming spectre of further sovereign debt rating downgrades, largely because of the potential fallout if Eskom, the country’s largest state-owned-enterprise, fails catastrophically.

On the social front, we are more divided than we have ever been since 1994, with racial animus pervading every conceivable media channel.

The downright self-
serving antics of the ANC in regard to expropriation without compensation (EWC) have done little to inspire market confidence in Mr Ramaphosa’s administration, and have served to divide the nation even more starkly along racial lines.

Land reform is critical, but making an unnecessary constitutional amendment to window-dress the ruling party’s failure to achieve its own target of 30% redistribution of agricultural land in the hands of commercial farmers by 2014, is little more than a populist tactic to garner votes.

Add into this toxic mix the storm clouds brewing on the horizon at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture, which, once it comes to conclusion, will hopefully see a great many people heading for a term of incarceration for their misdeeds.

Its frequent and many protestations to the contrary, the ANC is most definitely on trial at the Zondo Commission.

And let’s not forget the battle President Ramaphosa is waging for supremacy in his own party, against the forces that he was unsuccessful in defeating convincingly at the 2017 Nasrec elective conference, and which are fighting back fiercely, as he attempts to dismantle his predecessors’ patronage network that has gutted the country.

But the ANC is not alone in facing daunting challenges in capturing the hearts and minds of the electorate.

The DA is desperately attempting to recover from its disastrous handling of the “De Lille Matter”.

The long-running battle highlighted that factionalism isn’t the exclusive preserve of the ANC, and the DA’s less than transparent handling of the matter, severely dented its image as the party that presents itself – intentionally or not – as occupying the moral high ground in our politics.

Inevitably, the race card reared its head, deftly played by Ms De Lille and her acolytes who resigned from the DA with her when she finally stepped down in October.

The frantic attempts at damage control by the likes of Mmusi Maimane and Alan Winde are unlikely to convince the key component of the electorate – the so-called coloured vote – that Ms De Lille’s ousting was anything other than racially inspired.

And the imbroglio is not yet over. There is still the matter of the two Bowman forensic reports, which purport to exhort the Cape Town City Council to pursue criminal charges against Ms De Lille and others involved in the scandal.

The EFF, having lost the principal target of its venom – and, quite frankly, its raison d’etre – when Mr Zuma unwillingly fell upon his sword, also saw its single remaining crusade whipped out of its hands, when the ANC seized the EWC nettle and turned it into a vote-catching crusade.

The EFF has of late vied with the DA for the moral high ground in our politics, so the damning revelations that emerged implicating Floyd Shivambu and Julius Malema in the VBS Mutual Bank looting spree, couldn’t have come at a worse time for the party.

Firmly on the back foot, the party proceeded to attack the likes of Pravin Gordhan and his daughter, in an attempt to divert the glare of publicity from its alleged misdeeds.

Aside from its customary race-bating, the EFF has gone curiously quiet, because like the ANC and the DA, its reputation is more than a little tattered.

Ms De Lille has announced the formation of a new political party as have the former SABC court jester, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, alleged Gupta stooge, Jimmy Manyi, and Numsa’s Irvin Jim, further muddying the electoral water. For the record, 280 political parties are registered with the IEC for this year’s election.

Make your mark with care.