During the holiday season I attended a glitzy event in Cape Town for which the acronym MINO – money is no obstacle – applied in spades.
During a lull in festivities, I had what might be termed a “Peter Bruce encounter”, though in circumstances likely more bling than those prevailing in his legendary pubs.
An old acquaintance – a self-made business trader of Croesus-like wealth – began a conversation on familiar lines.
He said he was encouraging his two 20-something children to emigrate: “No long-term future for them here,” he prophesied.
When he asked me about politics in 2019, I offered my usual shtick about why a strengthened opposition was a good voting bet.
But instead of the expected nod of agreement, he offered, “For the first time since 1994, I am voting ANC – we need to strengthen Cyril.” This was uttered with a certainty that cautioned against contradiction. Or inoculated itself against the perils of “doublethink” – simultaneously holding two utterly contradictory thoughts.
After all, was not the party of “Cyril” the begetter of the Guptas, state dysfunction and the shrinking career options at home for his wannabe-expatriate children? But, then again, the power of logic has a hard swim against an ocean of emotion contained in his voting intention.
Four takeaways from this wildly unrepresentative dialogue.
First, anecdote is no substitute for analysis and hard numbers. I do not have the data, except for reprises of the same conversation elsewhere, to know if this is a minor ripple or a deep wave that could change the contour of the opposition vote, especially for the DA, in 2019.
Second, the credulousness of the business community and its leading denizens in matters politic has a long, though not reassuring, trajectory in our history. Henry Kenney in his study of Afrikaner nationalist rule in SA, Power, Pride and Prejudice, provides some useful reminders of this continuity.
The biggest single event that birthed and enraged the broad-based mass democratic movement in 1983 was the exclusionary (of blacks) tricameral constitution.
Yet as Kenney writes, “Perhaps most astonishing of all was the response of the business community. It supported a Yes vote [for PW Botha] overwhelmingly for reasons which suggested that when the will to believe is strong enough, no argument to the contrary will have the least effect.”
Third, if the DA is up against the same tide, with different undercurrents in 2019, must it merely surf the difficult wave as best it can or is there another option?
The 1994 election saw another wave crash against Democratic Party prospects and nearly drown the party entirely. Normally staunch liberal voters deserted the party in droves in response to the siren call of FW de Klerk who promised the largest, if not the strongest, opposition against the incoming ANC, though quite a few chose to go direct to the ANC anyway, marooning the DP in the zone of near extinction.
Once again, logic and impeccable political credentials had scant influence on the minds of voters whose hearts had moved elsewhere, with their votes soon to follow.
Fourth, I suspect that “strengthen Cyril’s hand” might be a siren call equally impervious to logical counter argument.
But if there is one emotion that triggers deep resonance in traditional opposition voters from minority communities – the DA voting backbone – it is deep unease with and hostility to the incendiary racism and destructive politics of the EFF.
Since part of “strengthening Cyril’s hand” means also embracing his cozying up to the EFF, this is a point of vulnerability for the DA to exploit. It marries the visible identity of an ideological enemy (the EFF) to its most recent enabler of amending the constitution et al (the ANC).
Picking a big fight with the EFF might seem a poor strategy since the DA governs at the EFF’s pleasure in Johannesburg and Tshwane. But facing a potential mighty national wave is a good moment for the official opposition to re-navigate its local arrangements.
Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London.
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