The old gag “the problem with political jokes is that they get elected” was given new meaning last weekend in embattled Ukraine. There, a television comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, won a landslide victory, ousting hapless incumbent Petro Poroshenko.

Voters ignored the latter’s warning that “voting for a comedian is no joke”.

The obvious jokers in the run-up to our local poll are many.

The clear Ace in the pack – the Gangster State man from the Free State – might be one were his pole position in the ANC not so hazardous to SA’s post-poll future.

Jostling for top spot must be EFF leader Julius Malema.

His decision to abandon the red fatigues and throw in his lot with the mink and manure set at the Inanda Club owes a lot to his ignorance of Marx. Not Karl, whose dreary slogans are offered with much energy by El Comandante, but a real joker, Groucho, who famously noted that he refused to belong to any club that would admit him as a member.

Julius is less discerning. Or perhaps he has hoisted the flag of ideological surrender. By joining the polo players and G&T Inanda set, he is reworking the adage “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

However, the biggest laugh provided in the campaign to date arrived last weekend from our president, when Cyril Ramaphosa implored voters in Ladysmith not to “punish the ANC on 8 May”.

Actually, elections are a trinary affair: the humble voter with his ballot and pencil has three choices with just one vote: reward a good performance or the hope of one; punish bad delivery and failed expectations; or, thirdly, ignore the entire process and don’t bother to pitch at all.

All this leads to one man who has taunted and teased the official opposition DA to paroxysms of angst: Sunday Times columnist Peter Bruce.

His early punt was that, despite the ANC being in its death throes, national duty obliges voters to place their mark next to the party in order to strengthen the hand of Ramaphosa, the only person of power who can lead SA off the cliff edge of failure. This view received the powerful recent endorsement of The Economist.

I regard Bruce as a friend. He is entirely responsible for my latter-day part-time career as a columnist. (He bears no responsibility, however, for advancing my previous career as opposition leader, since in every election when I was at the helm, he backed another party!)

This week, like a (very) poor man’s Tiger Woods, I returned to the national campaign stage for the first time in over a decade. This was no Masters and there is no green jacket, rather a blue one that, in Gauteng, has a long shot of entering the winner’s circle.

But, as I suggested to DA audiences, far more hazardous is the reform path: for every act of economic salvation simply to restore this country to solvency and reduce the mountain of 10-million unemployed, Ramaphosa’s reform menu means he has to remove the blockers and obstructers in his path.

These include the overwhelmingly powerful unions, which resist even the most timid reforms of our job-crushing labour market; the mighty public servants lobby, which has demanded, and received, R30bn in unbudgeted salary increases; the South African Democratic Teachers Union, a protection racket that prevents competency testing of its members.

Yet not once, despite his winning smile and bland remarks, has Ramaphosa hinted at any commitment to taking on these challenges and those obstructionists.

By contrast, every pro-reform vote will signal that the country is on a path of real change to better confront the enemies of its progress. And that’s no laughing matter.

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