It’s easy to tell by the record number of political parties contesting the May 8 election and their campaign strategies that the electoral stakes are high this time around.
The insistence by the smaller parties to be afforded equal platforms and airtime as the bigger ones is testimony to this fact. The groups all try to exploit the media and public debate platforms to their advantage.
This is not to mention the big guns like the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, that have upped the ante by pulling all resources at their disposal. That former president Thabo Mbeki and Tony Leon, DA founding leader, came forward to help their respective party election campaigns is telling.
The ANC knows that under Mbeki, the party’s vote tally increased every election. He even beat the iconic Nelson Mandela’s 1994 ANC total and achieved a rise to 66.35% in 1999 and 69.69% in 2004 – numbers the ANC would never achieve again.
Mbeki made the ANC the peoples’ choice – the only president to achieve sustained economic growth, despite being labelled by some as aloof and a power monger.
Mbeki said he could not confidently ask the voters to vote for the ANC because of the wrongs happening within the party. It was obvious he was referring to the chaos that characterised those “nine wasted years” of Jacob Zuma rule.
He then refused to participate in party activities, including campaigning. But he remained loyal to the ANC, despite the abuse he endured from Zuma’s Polokwane crowd.
Mbeki’s return to work for the ANC is a vote of confidence in Cyril Ramaphosa who, unlike Zuma, had not displayed a vindictive attitude towards him. Besides, Ramaphosa’s anticorruption message resonates with Mbeki’s famous antigraft stance during his reign.
Leon’s re-emergence is good for the DA, which is pushing hard to take over Gauteng and Northern Cape and retain power in the Western Cape. He has the dignity, strength and influence lacking in many political leaders. Under Leon and Zille, the DA was the only party that kept on growing, but all surveys presently indicate a possible support decline in this election.
It’s a great move by both the ANC and the DA to engage veterans such as Mbeki and Leon to boost their electoral fortunes. Had they done this in previous elections, these parties would have reaped the dividends.
But Leon’s participation in the DA campaign may have unintended consequences. It could impact negatively on Mmusi Maimane’s image as an incumbent and reinforce the narrative that he is a mere token with no power.
It is said the real power in the DA lies with a troika of white leaders, who decide the direction the party must follow, without necessarily consulting the leader.
So, Leon’s return to the DA could not be an innocent roping in of a party stalwart, but an attempt to revive the dying white support for the party. His task is to attract the apathetic white voters back to the DA – something Maimane was seen as failing to do.
But if Leon’s campaign succeeds in winning Gauteng for the DA, there is a danger of the emergence of two centres of power within the party, with Maimane as leader and Leon as a powerful shadow leader.
Leon’s influence might be used in future elections, not only in Gauteng and Western Cape, but elsewhere, therefore rendering Maimane truly a token, as he had been labelled.