SAR, Vol 9, No 2, November 1993
THE ANC AND THE ELECTIONS
BY HEIN MARAIS AND CHRIS VICK
Hein Marais and Chris Vick are editor and deputy editor of Work in Progress.
The birthday celebrations for liberation movements tend to be ironic affairs. After all, 50 or 75 years of struggle is an ambiguous accomplishment - a mark of maturity and distinction, yet at the same time a measure of the failure to achieve liberation.
On January 8 next year, when the ANC celebrates its eighty-second birthday, the organization will be launching its strongest ever bid for state power - with a R200-million election campaign kicking into top gear. Does Africa's oldest liberation movement have what it takes to become the continent's newest government?
The question is, in one sense, rhetorical. An ANC election victory seems as certain as tomorrow's sunrise.
But in another sense, the answer is not straightforward. From the outset, the National Party (NP) has been trying to avoid a sudden-death, winner-takes-all contest. And it has succeeded - the ANC and its arch-rival have agreed, after two years of negotiations, to form a power-sharing government after the April 27 vote. So, in theory, there will not be an ANC government, but a power-sharing one.
Although there is no agreement on the exact method that will be used to stitch together this relationship, the relative weight of the two major parties in the power-sharing government will depend on their showings in the election. If the NP can come within 15 or 20% of the ANC, the ball game changes radically.
So it's not simply a question of winning or losing, but by how far the ANC manages to beat the NP or an NP alliance.
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The ANC is no doubt the single most popular political organization in the country. Polls peg its national support at between 54% and 60%. Among African voters it runs as high as 85-90% in areas like the northern Transvaal and Eastern Cape, long regarded as "ANC country," but drops towards the 50% mark in Natal.
However, as Steve Friedman, Director of the Centre for Policy Studies, stresses, "Popular support does not necessarily translate into votes."
So how is the ANC shaping up electorally? "They're fighting this election as if they might lose it," was analyst Tom Lodge's verdict at a recent gathering. Alert to the importance of converting support into votes - of getting the vote out - the organization has devised a breathtakingly ambitious plan to visit every black home not once or twice but three times in the next seven months.
It's the business-end of a massive four-phase election campaign:
* Phase One: Setting up systems and infrastructure, training election workers, devising strategies, motivating voters with the message that every vote counts, popularizing the basic campaign message, talking to every one of 22.5 million voters at least once;
* Phase Two: "We Are Ready to Govern." Talking to voters a second time and focusing on undecided and supportive voters, consolidating systems, starting to challenge the opposition. Included here is the development of an election list and, at a symbolic conference on December 16, formalizing the ANC's election platform, including its manifesto;
* Phase Three: "Mobilising for Victory." A third visit to voters, popularizing the election platform and candidates, a big mobilization drive and media blitz, and preparing election day logistics.
* Phase Four: "Election Week, Victory Week." Ensuring everyone knows where and how to vote, arranging monitoring, transport, security, logistics, delivering supporters to polls.
It's early days still, and the ANC does seem to have a head-start on the ruling party, which is still getting the hang of crying "Viva NP! Viva!" in public and slipping Afrikaans translations of the African anthem Nkosi Sikelel i'Afrika into some of its proceedings.
But the hurdles that separate the ANC from a decisive election victory are formidable. Visiting each home three times would be a daunting goal anywhere. Accomplishing it in a landscape carved into no-go zones, rocked by violence, and clouded by suspicion and fear seems like a stupefyingly tall order.
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Despite its commitment to non-racialism, the ANC remains a largely African organization. White support is a speck in the desert, despite slick efforts to amplify a drift towards the ANC by some prominent whites into a trend. Polls show no more than one in four coloureds and Indians are likely to put their crosses next to the ANC logo next April. (The hostility of whites is easy to grasp. The reticence and wariness of coloured and Indian voters, however, requires an article in its own right.)
The coloured vote is particularly important in the Western Cape, which the NP is eyeing as its regional stronghold in the new order. Coloured communities constitute 68% of the region's voters, and the ANC is making a serious pitch for their support.
ANC organizers believe they can take the Western Cape if the liberal Democratic Party (DP) manages to split nascent NP support among coloured voters. But ANC structures in the region are still on the flimsy side: in Cape Town, for example, areas that were strongholds of the United Democratic Front have not managed to nurture functioning ANC branches.
It's a different story in the city's African squatter camps (home to some 60% of Cape Town's African population), most of which boast robust ANC branches. The problem, though, is that they are often extensions of authoritarian, sometimes ruthless, regimes maintained by squatter lords. "These guys support the ANC," confides a local ANC organizer, "but that's not necessarily an advantage for us." The organization's reluctance to challenge the tendencies of local pro-ANC strongmen to run settlements like fiefdoms has led many residents to retreat from active, organized support.
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By far the bulk of South Africa's voters are distributed in the two regions hardest hit by political violence: Natal and the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging (PWV) area around Johannesburg.
Together, they account for almost half the votes at stake. The random and endemic nature of the violence has hit the ANC hard, and in multiple ways. It has locked local and regional structures into crisis mode, and hampered the ability to systematically mount initiatives. It has also implicated the ANC in the fighting and strengthened the hand of `stand-and-deliver' militants.
A classic example of this is the Natal Midlands - bastion of `bitter-enders' like Harry Gwala - where seven years of low-intensity war has militarized the ANC dramatically. There the rule of thumb seems to be that one is either `with us or against us.' The effect has been to encamp the converted and alienate the rest.
Peace monitors in some of the townships that encircle central Durban say the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) is better geared for an election than the ANC. "There's no electoral machine, no campaigning, no strategy there," says one observer of the ANC presence. There are also reports that head office attempts to bolster regional election preparations have not been received as warmly as anticipated.
Opinion polls in these areas find an abnormally high rate of voters who say they don't know or won't tell which way they intend to vote. In one poll late last year, 60% of African women in Durban townships refused to commit themselves. This could be because the high levels of violence might deter people from admitting their allegiance to anyone, especially a strange pollster.
But it could also signal another huge hurdle for the ANC: displeasure at its failure to change the day-to-day realities of township life - whether countering the chronic insecurity, or improving services and amenities.
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The fact that the violence ploughs on amid "breakthroughs" in national political negotiations has definitely hardened scepticism towards party politics. Says Jan Hofmeyr, Director of the polling firm Research Surveys: "There has been a growth of cynicism towards politicians and politics in black communities."
In Durban's Umlazi township, for instance, conciliation was achieved despite - not because of - injunctions from regional leadership of both the ANC and Inkatha, when youths agreed to forge a truce on the soccer field. A tense, tentative match soon led to a tournament and other joint activities. The message - that politicians are not necessarily the creators of stability and peace - presumably hits a chord.
Another debilitating effect of the violence is the danger that the election - and even the act of voting - might come to be viewed as a life-threatening affair. The view that black townships are out-of-bounds to the campaigns of `white' parties is fiercely advanced, not only by firebrands of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) but also by civic leaders like Sanco's Dan Mofokeng. Already, efforts by the DP to hold meetings in black areas have been sabotaged by attack, and the election campaign has hardly started.
The slicing of townships and squatter settlements (or parts of them) into `zones of control' means the map is dotted with hundreds of no-go areas. ANC activists will enter some on pain of death; likewise for IFP activists or new-born NP campaigners in others. In many cases this posture is maintained with at least a nod from local-level leadership. In others it is enforced with the help of bantustan police, like the KwaZulu Police that holds Inkatha fiefdoms to order in Natal.
The effect, again, is to estrange the centre, those residents who are not steadfastly aligned to a party but who might share basic principles and ideals with it.
Even the best intentions and most diligent efforts - on all sides - will not make this election campaign a peaceable one: the roots of the violence are too many and, by now, too firmly embedded in social and political life. Hopes for comparative calm are staked on enterprises like the envisaged Peace Keeping Force (a multiparty, make-shift community policing force already given the cold-shoulder by Inkatha), on a sturdy and vocal international monitoring presence, or on the South African Police becoming more of a public service and less of a private army.
Whatever its sources, the violence will hit the liberation organizations - particularly the ANC - hardest. For every ten voters who stay away from the polls, liberation movements lose nine votes, seven of which were probably destined for the ANC.
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In South Africa's rural areas, and particularly on white-owned farms, a sort of pre-1990 reality still reigns. The lines that separate `us' and `them' still span rural SA like trenches. The ambiguities of conciliation and compromise, however sleek and wily, tend not to complicate these quasi-feudal zones - zones that escape the scrutiny of city-based journalists and monitors. We've calculated that if the turnout of black voters in rural SA is 15% below a national turnout of 70%, the ANC and PAC will lose 800,000 votes (most of them ANC). That's almost 4% of all votes.
Piet Gous, president of the Free State Agricultural Union of white farmers, says openly on national TV that his members will "not allow any political campaigning" on their farms. Experience in the field, so to speak, confirms that their counterparts in other provinces are of a similar mind.
"It's a big problem," says an ANC organizer in the rural Cape. "Even liberal farmers are reluctant to let us onto farms." In some mining compounds on the remote West Coast - literally company towns - ANC regional officials are unable to meet with bona fide ANC branches formed at the mine.
There have been some creative attempts to overcome this. ANC members hitch rides onto farms with delivery vans and surreptitiously hand out literature and speak to workers. More effective, though, is the tactic of holding meetings on the last Saturday morning of the month in town, when workers are visiting shopping areas.
That hundreds of thousands of farmworkers can be ruled out-of-bounds for political campaigners by farmers' decrees is bad enough. Equally worrying is the fact that these potential voters are likely to be deprived of proper voter education.
Workshops in the Transvaal have already found that farmworkers are hampered by ignorance and fear. Focus groups find people confused when instructed to indicate with a cross the political party they approve of - even those with rudimentary education recall that a cross signifies a mistake or a dislike. Lack of access for voter education programmes will leave these voters sitting ducks for farmers' disinformation - your vote will not be secret, if you vote for X you'll lose your job, et cetera.
* * *
Propelling the ANC forward is a proud history of struggle, the trust the majority of South Africans vest in it, the commitment of its activists, and a painstakingly planned campaign.
It has secured the services of Stan Greenberg, the US election strategist who helped plot President Bill Clinton's path into the White House. In addition, it is serviced regularly - and exclusively - with some of the most revelatory polling data available.
It has also managed to cramp the state's hand somewhat by winning agreement for a Transitional Executive Council (TEC) and other legislative measures that will `level the playing field' in the election run-up, such as an independent electoral commission and a broadcasting commission.
But elections are a new ball game for the ANC. As chief elections coordinator Popo Molefe says, in a reference to the mass democratic movement's highly-successful activities in the mid-80s: "We have fought elections only to the extent that we organized boycotts against them."
The requisite skills and talents exist, but they have been honed in different styles of organizing. In the PWV region especially the activists are bent by multiple workloads (humoured here as `wearing different hats') and run the risk of burn out in the crucial, final phases of the campaign.
Systems, infrastructure and organized resources are, in several regions, still in ramshackle shape. The reaction thus far has been to `Send in Madiba' - Nelson Mandela goes on the stump in relatively slick and spectacular blitzes. Typically, he leaves in his wake a swirl of elevated spirits and determination. Whether this distils into improved organizational capacities remains to be seen.
A campaign that, in many respects, centres on Mandela's persona will be extremely taxing. Privately, ANC officials worry that the 75-year-old president might, close to election day, be floored by the pace of the campaign.
Campaigns run on blood, sweat and cash. ANC officials are tight-lipped about progress in raising the estimated R200-million the organization says it needs for the election. Recently, there have been reports of hiccups in turning pledges made in the US, Taiwan and India into hard cash.
The NP, though, will likely be spared such headaches. No matter the public protestations, corporate SA views the NP as a more trustworthy defender of its interests and will financially assist its election bid. The party has more than 200 MPs flush with state-paid salaries, staff, offices and other infrastructure. It has already begun doling out perks like food coupons and title deeds to targeted constituencies like pensioners, coloured and Indian tenants and more. And there are the sympathetic newspapers and a somewhat less than combative network of 22 radio and four TV channels, run by a SA Broadcasting Corporation that is now topped by a new, independent board and governed by new guidelines (but still staffed, in the main, by its old guard government appointees).
The ANC, quite simply, lacks sympathetic mass media. And, as the 1992 whites-only referendum showed, the mass media are likely to get more hysterical and hostile to the prospect of an ANC government as the election date approaches.
In an attempt to counter this, an ANC (in all but name) daily is scheduled to hit the streets next January, but insiders say it's unlikely to meet that deadline. In the meantime, the movement tries to counter the steadily massing propaganda themes of its opponents with a two-pronged drive: first world-style, glitzy newspaper ads that seem tailored more for yuppies and buppies than for the throngs of wavering voters, and third world-style face-to-face chin wagging sessions.
It's early days yet. For many South Africans, the election date is still a distant abstraction. The scramble for votes, the propaganda onslaughts, the dirty tricks have hardly started. Likewise, many elements of the ANC's election campaign are still to come on stream.
The electric sense that a liberated SA is at hand has still to register.
Victory, conclusive or not, lies tantalizingly close. But at this stage, the only certainty is that nothing is certain. As liberation movements much younger than the ANC have learned, there is no easy road to freedom.
South Africans over 18 years of age will elect 400 representatives to a constituent assembly, which will function as parliament and draft a new constitution. There will be a national list (200 seats) and a regional list (200 seats) of candidates - which is meant to avoid sidelining parties that are strong in a few regions, but weak nationally.
There are conflicting estimates of the number of voters in the country. The ANC says 22.5 million, the Department of Home Affairs says 22.2 million, some independent statisticians say 21.6 million. A Research Surveys statistician now claims there are as many as three to four million more voters than previously calculated on the basis of what he terms `a deeply flawed' 1991 government census. Most of these `undetected' voters are black. There will be about 7,400 voting stations, and voting is likely to last one day only. This means each voting station will have to handle more than 3,000 voters or three voters per minute.
An independently constituted Electoral Commission will supervise the planning and preparation for the election, as well as the vote itself.
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