The last of the post-1994 era elections
With Elections 2014 all over bar the actual voting, it's time to sum up Campaigns 2014. To see who did what and why, and work out what that actually tells us. And then to work out what the next elections could be like.
If these elections were a Mr Men book, it would be quite easy.
Once upon a time Little Ms Bossy shouted at Mr Number One who was protected by several dozen Mr and Ms Little Firepool-deniers. Master Obama helped Little Ms Bossy, but wasn't able to do much. On the sidelines Little Ms Splendid sat in a grumpy puddle, wondering why she had kissed Ms Bossy. The person who gained the most attention was Little Master Shouty. He shouted and shouted, but couldn't really explain why he was shouting so much. And so many people have got used to his shouting, they don't give an eff anymore anyway. Then, from KwaZulu-Natal there was Mr Grumpy. Mr Grumpy had once been so important, and so cross, that he didn't want to take part in elections at all. Twenty years later, he's still cross, but he is not nearly as important as he used to be. And there is Little Mr General. Mr General had quite a good election. He took on the person who runs the election itself. While he didn't succeed in his coup attempt against her, he did get a lot of media time for it.
But in the end nothing really changed. Mr Number One lived happily Nkandla-after, Mr Shouty shouted some more, even when the election was over, Little Ms Splendid disappeared and Ms Bossy stayed Bossy.
South Africa is not a Mr Men book. It's a lot more complicated than that. But, to be blunt, not much is going to change after this election. And therein lies the point.
It's been a lot like 2004, really. The ANC will stay in power. President will stay on in power, this time Jacob Zuma. The DA will keep fighting back as the official opposition, and maybe the EFF will become a force in Parliament, and maybe it won't. But generally speaking, nothing is going to change.
This was strongly illustrated by the events of the weekend rallies. As always, this is where the parties reveal their true selves, as the clock ticks down. The DA's rally focused, in large part, on the ANC, on the Nkandlas and the Blue Light Brigades, etc. The ANC went racial, through Blade Nzimande and S'dumo Dlamini, who both attacked the DA as a party of "white privilege". In other words, despite all the guff about policy and jobs and the economy over the last few weeks, in the end it was down to the DA's criticism of the ANC, and the ANC's use of the race card.
In a country where one party is so dominant, unless that party has a new leader, as it did in 2009, then you would expect elections to be pretty boring. As South Africa gets more normal, its elections will start to gain that spark. And, of course, we really do need to stop comparing everything to 1994. We will not have an election like that again.
But there are several other reasons why these elections have been a little uninspiring.
The first is that the debate didn't change at all. It was entirely fitting that campaigning seemed to end where it had begun, with revelations about Nkandla. At the start it was the Public Protector's provisional report that revealed the full extent of government's spending, and at the end, it was Zuma's own revelations around it.
The second is that all the main personalities are the same. Zuma, Zille, and Julius. As the only person who's changed really in the last five years Malema - and that really in terms of position only - it was natural that he got so much attention.
The other side is that there has quite frankly been no real change in anyone's policy. The DA's policies have simply got closer to the ANC's. And the ANC's aren't really going to change much because to change ANC policy simply takes too much time and effort. And the church is so broad now that the best one can hope for is something in the middle of the road. If they ever release a new policy document, it should be called 'The Thin White Line'.
The other reason that these polls have been so dull is that they have actually forced several other important dynamics to simply hit the pause button.
It may be heresy to say this, but the most important political story of this year will probably be the split of Cosatu, and the formation of a workers' party led by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA. ANC Deputy Leader Cyril Ramaphosa was able to get Cosatu's Central Executive Committee to hold off a decision to expel Numsa, but that was the best even the country's best negotiator could do. Once the elections are over, that entire process is going to resume.
The 2009 polls were far more interesting, mainly because of the processes that the recall of Mbeki had set in motion. Cope had just formed, and seemed to be about to upset the apple cart. It did, to an extent. It would seem, then, that if the Cosatu split does happen, then that will be the dominant dynamic of 2014. There will also, of course, be a new leader in charge of the ANC (we presume), and that will bring on a dynamic all of its own. That person will be untested.
They will also probably be the first person since 1999 to rule the country who is not from the Mbeki/Zuma generation (the two were born just a few months apart). And possibly, very possibly, it will be someone who was not in exile during the Struggle (Zuma ran various parts of the ANC from Swaziland and other neighbouring countries; Mbeki, of course, was with Tambo). That in itself could mean a very different ANC in 2019. And they may well start to modernise the party, which could change how it handles elections.
If Elections 2014 have been fairly boring, it may be because they're the last of this type of election. Where it's the (mostly black) ANC against the (not mostly white but tagged with that anyway) DA. This is probably what you would call the last post-1994 era election. Because next time will probably be quite different. And possibly the start of a new era.
Stephen Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes
This column appeared on Daily Maverick.