The voices we hear – and don’t hear – as poll fever bites

The voices we hear – and don’t hear – as poll fever bites

The rancorous tone of the election campaign here, even before its official start, suggests many readers might prefer to take a spin in a Land Rover driven by Prince Philip than endure three more months of political noise.

Expect it to get even louder and nastier. Bill Clinton, at one time a vote-winner of note, once said: “It’s highly complicated: people do not like negative, divisive environments. But they frequently reward them in elections.”

Back on Planet SA, the DA billboard “The ANC is Killing Us” has attracted opprobrium from various quarters. Poor Mmusi Maimane: in a hugely overcrowded field he had the Mampara cap placed on his head by this newspaper’s Hogarth.

I judged Nomvula Mokonyane a more deserving winner, given the Angelo Agrizzi testimony. But the DA certainly sucked a huge amount of oxygen out of the media atmosphere.

In the week that Zondo commission evidence was driving ANC spokespersons into lateral arabesques of contorted explanations on how it would (or likely would not) deal with the suspects adorning its candidates’ lists, the DA was explaining its billboard.

An energetic young DA MP in KwaZulu-Natal, Dean Macpherson, took a flyer with a negative flyer this week when he advised his constituents, in apocalyptic terms, that if they did not register this weekend, the ANC “will take away your house and pension to fund Eskom, SAA, Denel and Sanral”.

If you take the view of economist Peter Attard Montalto, the election result won’t make a blind bit of difference to the ANC’s attempt to take land or raid the pension funds. In his view, “The post-election period will largely be the same whether the ANC gets closer to 50% or 65% of the vote. “The real deciders on these crunch issues, in other words, are not the voters but the ANC national executive and its factions. And they will remain the same, and in place, the day after the polls close.

The Macpherson pamphlet drew an inflamed response from the ANC’s Zizi Kodwa, who condemned the DA, predictably, for “fearmongering reminiscent of the apartheid swart gevaar and rooi gevaar” (black peril and red peril).

Further upstream from this mud bath lies a real danger, though, and many sober analysts outside of party politics warn of the real hazards that, in doomsday fashion, the pamphlet references.

Ironically, it was from the dead hand of apartheid economics that the ANC drew its inspiration to include the spectre of “prescribed assets” in its manifesto.

But where is the voice of organised business in all this? It’s one thing to dislike negative campaigning, but “the silence of the lambs” of the mouthpieces of enterprise and wealth creation is frankly bizarre.

Business Leadership SA (BLSA) issued a statement under the curious headline “Business welcomes the ANC manifesto”. It was, bar one caveat, entirely laudatory of the party’s state-centric, private enterprise-wary document. Its one criticism was on the Reserve Bank and the manifesto pledge to control it and undermine its mandate.

Four of BLSA’s key members (Alexander Forbes, Coronation, Old Mutual and Sanlam) are among the biggest fund managers and stewards of retirement funds. But not a word of criticism, from their lobby, on the danger to pension funds embedded in the prescribed-asset proposal.

Then again, the chair of BLSA, Jabu Mabuza, is also the chair of Eskom. So perhaps that is one explanation for the inexplicable.

Or maybe a conspiracy theory is a useful companion to negative campaigning in an election year.

Leon, a former leader of the opposition, now chairs Resolve Communications and is a senior adviser to K2 Intelligence of London. @TonyLeonSA.

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