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[OPINION] The silly season ahead of the 2019 elections

The festive season is well and truly over but another silly season is upon us - election season.

The ANC started it by launching its manifesto last weekend - a parade of more than 80,000 of the party faithful and the strange sight of uniformed cadres marching in bearing a cake. The old saying, ‘beware of the Greeks bearing gifts’ may apply.

And so President Ramaphosa somewhat annoyingly spent much of his time in KwaZulu-Natal acting like the appeaser in Jacob Zuma’s territory. One could almost forget that Zuma is a former head of state who departed in disgrace and who has left Ramaphosa himself with the massive task of cleaning up the mess of corruption that has permeated just about every part of the state.

But this is an election year and so we can expect more of the same - ANC politicians cozying up to each other and that tired word, ‘unity’ being used to paper over some serious cracks.

It is going to be unseemly - there will be populism - Zuma seems to want to campaign all over again, saying all people need is land and all our problems will be solved. This sort of cheap rhetoric is unhelpful in an environment where there are too many promises and too few facts infusing what passes as debate.

Political parties, the ANC with its power of incumbency, will no doubt lure voters with food parcels and T-shirts. This has become virtually standard fare during South African election years.

The ANC’s manifesto highlights job creation and fighting corruption as well as the land issue, amongst other things. So, all the things we know we have to tend to were mentioned. Of course, as ever, the devil will be in the detail and in who will execute these plans. There is some dead wood in the Ramaphosa Cabinet and perhaps securing a decent election victory will allow him to act with greater clarity of vision where until now he has had to be ambiguous - think Bathabile Dlamini.

In addition, two issues which have uncomfortably raised their heads have been the independence of the Reserve Bank and then investigating the introduction of prescribed assets on financial institutions’ funds. Both have understandably been met with raised eyebrows. And so it is the old chestnut - the ANC’s attempt to create compromise between its different factions. It can be tedious and has had a real impact on effective governance.

South Africa may be better off focusing on three key areas - job creation, education and a massive corruption clean up. Apart from Higher Education, it is Basic Education that needs a major shake-up. What we are dealing with is a crisis which undermines whatever Ramaphosa and the ANC seek to do as regards job creation and the so-called ‘fourth industrial revolution’, an over-used term in government with little understanding of what it actually means. Distributing iPads is not a way to start a tech revolution if children cannot read for meaning. Or indeed, if they have no proper infrastructure at schools.

The ANC has gone on a voter registration drive in schools in Gauteng to drive home its message. Of course, it is the IEC that should be doing this, not political parties. But again, in the silly season of elections, all sorts of rules are breached.

On the other side of the spectrum we also seem to have a plethora of new political parties being started by some rather dubious individuals such as Mzwanele Manyi and Hlaudi Motsoeneng. They seem to have no plan to better South Africans’ lives other than to secure an MP’s salary for themselves.

The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, has had a rather rough year, what with its in-fighting in the City of Cape Town, some strange recent utterances by Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba and its national leader Musi Maimane seeming to do more following than leading. It perhaps has the most to lose on voting day.

But these are early days. What we can be assured of is that the likes of the EFF will ratchet up the populism and Jacob Zuma may well ‘bring out his machine gun’ yet again to woo the crowds in KwaZulu-Natal.

We will be told what we want to hear and so it’s crucial that we do not suspend reason over the next four months.

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy'. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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