Democratic Alliance (DA) and opposition leader in the South African parliament Mmusi Maimane, walked into the Dobsonville Stadium in Soweto on Saturday for the final campaign rally, ahead of voting today to deliver a message that his fellow countrymen needed to break away from its past with Cyril Ramaphosa’s African National Congress.
Soweto is the bastion of black South African politics and the home or birthplace of Maimane himself and ANC heavyweights such as the late Winnie Mandela, President Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale, Nelson Mandela, Frank Chikane, Lilian Ngoyi, Desmond Tutu and Hector Peterson, among the many luminaries.
But this is a new age and after witnessing the steady fading of Nelson Mandela’s dream of a prosperous and more equal South Africa, through the Thabo Mbeki years and the disaster of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, the millennials appear in need of a new vision and hope.
The eloquent young leader was at the stadium to sell his vision to thousands of supporters that the vote taking place today was the opportunity to create a new future, unshackled from the stronghold of local politics by the liberation war heroes, whose home is the ANC.
“We need to liberate ourselves from our liberators, they have now turned into oppressors, feeding their tummies from corruption and abuse of State power – on May 8 send them to prison and not to Parliament,” Maimane said.
“They are stealing money from government, they stole SAR1,3 trillion and then claim that they liberated this country. They invoke the name of Nelson Mandela while stealing. Those who liberated our country are turning in their graves,” Maimane said.
Immediately, as I listened to the speech, my mind turned to Zimbabwe’s opposition MDC led by Nelson Chamisa, the two appeared to be sharing the same hymn book.
The MDC accuses Zanu PF of having replaced the white oppressors and holding the country to ransom because they fought in the liberation struggle.
“We now have certain greedy and selfish characters, who are hijacking the liberation struggle for their own benefit. The liberation struggle was never about an individual’s owning multiple cars, multiple farms, houses and swimming pools — even if you can only swim in one. It was never about that. It was never about the trinkets and trappings of power,” Chamisa told NewsDay in a recent interview.
Both the MDC and DA face the same challenges. They are viewed as conduits to recolonisation and a back-door through which the white minority rule hopes to make a return.
The DA is a hard sell in South African politics, after coming out of a merger between the Democratic Party and the New National Party, a remnant of the country’s long-time ruling party and apartheid architect, the National Party.
This was immediately obvious when my taxi driver, who insisted on being called Patrick, told me that the DA would not win the elections.
“It is a white minority party and Maimane is a white man in black skin,” he said. He took over as party leader from Helen Zille in 2015 in what many commentators saw as an attempt to broaden the party’s appeal to black voters. That Maimane’s wife, Natalie, is white, does not help matters.
But at Dobsonville, Maimane pushed his case: “We are more diverse than ever before. We govern in more places than ever before. We are united in our mission of building one South Africa for all. The DA is the only party for all South Africans, and you will find us everywhere, from Durban to Dobsonville, from Chatsworth to Carletonville, and from Motherwell to Mitchells Plain. We are young and old, black and white. We are Christian, Muslim, Jewish and non-believers. We are men and women, gay and straight. We’re in cities, we’re in villages and we’re on farms,” he told his audience.
For Patrick, that is immaterial.
“The DA is a white party and the EFF is good as the opposition, but their leader is too dangerous to allow anywhere close to power. I have no choice, but to vote ANC, but those guys are corrupt my friend,” he said, though he admits to feeling the pinch of an economic slowdown, the fall in the value of the rand and higher prices.
Midvaal mayor Bongani Baloyi’s chief of staff Mooipone Molotlhanyi, a DA member, holds a different perspective, saying those who say DA is a white party are misled.
Molotlhanyi spoke of how the ANC had turned the social grants given to the poor and elderly in South Africa to a party programme.
“There is this threat that grants will be withdrawn if the ANC does not win elections. The grants are not even an ANC programme, but government,” she said.
Africa Liberal Network co-ordinator, Nangamso Kwinana, calls it the curse of Africa, where liberators have become oppressors and a new wave of liberation movement was now needed.
“It is an African curse. We see it in most African countries, but speaking to South Africa and Zimbabwe, both countries have vibrant opposition parties, leading citizens who have endured the disservice of our former liberation parties. Both countries are yearning for change, for growth economic partnerships and progress,” Kwinana said.
Friedeich Nauman Foundation project director in South Africa and Zimbabwe, Barbara Groeblinghoff led us, as observers from Zimbabwe, India, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Kenya and Lebanon, through the history of South Africa and the issues in the elections.
Groeblinghoff said the election is not likely to be decided on issues, like nearly all African elections, emotions dominate over the real issues affecting the country.
The MDC in Zimbabwe, although disputing the poll results every time, have always lost the polls on the backdrop of Zanu PF invoking the memories of the bloody and protracted liberation struggle.
The rural populace was told that the MDC would bring back white colonial rule, reverse land reform and withdraw the presidential inputs scheme, which sees rural folks getting free seed and farming inputs from government.
Maimane in his speech hit another code; he went after Ramaphosa, who was once Jacob Zuma’s Vice-President and a long time ANC member.
“Do not be misled by people who have been part of this corruption for a long time and now all of a sudden they say they want to change. They get surprised at the levels of corruption in the country like they are seeing it for the first time. I always say a baby can’t change their own diapers, DA will change those diapers,” he said.
Mnangagwa, in government since 1980 and a trusted hand of ousted President Robert Mugabe, has been singing the same song, he is changing things in Zimbabwe and bringing a new dispensation. Chamisa says it is all fake.
“A dirty hand can’t wash itself, it is not a second republic it’s the first masquerading as the second republic,” Chamisa said.
There are similarities in the election and the history and messaging between Zimbabwe and South African politics, but in terms of campaign and the way the elections are held, they are worlds apart.
Walking through Rosebank, one might be forgiven to think that there are no elections in South Africa, business is normal and supporters are not forced to attend rallies nor bussed.
Political campaign posters are not put on private buildings, Kwinana tells me council by laws are punitive and hit hard on the political party coffers, if violated.
Violence is not part of the South African elections, there is peace and leaders of political parties do not even need to reign in their supporters, they mingle freely in their party regalia, which is not dished out for free.
Party supporters actually buy party colours and wear them in such a fashionable manner to make it trendy to belong to a political party.
Although geographically and historically close to each other, Zimbabwe and South Africa remain worlds apart.