21 Jan 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication: BDlive
It was the events around and after the memorial service and funeral for former president Nelson Mandela that revealed a changed reality in South Africa, writes Tony Leon
ENGLISH soccer great Gary Lineker once observed that "football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win."
Give or take the ascendancy of Spain and one or two others in soccer, this seems to be a handy user’s guide for watching the unfolding general election campaign in South Africa, and predicting its final outcome.
In horse-racing terms, the African National Congress (ANC) is a dead cert to win nationally, and odds-on favourite to retain its grip on eight of nine provinces.
Gauteng has been put in play through a combination of factors — a fractious ruling party, extremely unpopular e-tolls and spiralling delivery failures, and the energetic and fresh-faced campaign of the Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) top candidate, Mmusi Maimane. But even Maimane, the new hope for the opposition, perhaps realises how long the odds are in reality.
In the previous provincial poll in 2009, the ANC obtained 63.99% of the vote, a shade higher than it achieved in the home province of President Jacob Zuma in KwaZulu-Natal.
Even dreams of the opposition combining to force the ANC below 50% in Gauteng must yield to the reality that as far as co-operation between, for example, the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) goes, there is, as the meretricious Julius Malema would say, "no way, Madam". Perhaps this caution explains why Maimane himself has apparently taken a two-way bet on the outcome and reserved a place for himself on the DA’s list for Parliament as a form of electoral insurance.
But, of course, beneath the predicted headline outcome, a great deal of the small print in the results will also set the course of our political economy for years to come.
It was the events around and after the memorial service and funeral last month for former president Nelson Mandela that revealed a changed reality in South Africa.
There is no doubt that, in life, Mandela had a significant regard for Zuma.
Back in September 2002, when Zuma was still deputy president and had been obliged by the guardians around President Thabo Mbeki to issue a statement saying he had no ambition to become president, Mandela told me — and doubtless others: "JZ is the key man in the party and the movement."
I thought at the time that this showed the great Madiba to be startlingly out of touch with the national zeitgeist.
Events proved just how canny the old man actually was.
Even in death, Mandela’s touch seemed to advance Zuma further.
On December 5 last year, the ANC was due to commence a difficult national executive meeting at the very moment when Nkandla and the serial scandals around it were raising serious internal questions about the party’s president. Mandela’s passing rewrote the timetable.
It was also a moment for the country and the world to perhaps embrace the leader who stood in Mandela’s stead.
But as The Economist noted, even before the cascade of debacles at the FNB Stadium: "Without the protection of Mandela’s saintly aura" the ruling party and its leaders "will be more harshly judged".
Just how quickly the mantle proved to be nontransferable was revealed when sections of the crowd at the FNB Stadium booed the president, a moment of exquisite personal embarrassment and national shame.
But it might be of (cold) comfort for the president to know that he is not alone in this unhappy league.
I witnessed then-Australian prime minister John Howard being raucously jeered at a packed rugby stadium in Sydney, in September 2001, at the Bledisloe Cup rugby grand finale.
Tony Blair was roundly booed by 10,000 people at a women’s institute conference in London in 2000.
Although neither of them then used national security agents to filter future crowds, both Howard and Blair went on to win hefty majorities at the next elections.
By our standards of glorifying regnant leaders, the FNB Stadium wake-up call signalled the arrival of more normal and less deified politics on our shores.
Barely had Mandela been laid to rest in Qunu than the ANC’s most powerful trade union partner, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, chose to announce its disaffiliation from the ruling party.
The iron unity of old is now more of a circular firing squad.
All this uncivil chatter and churn leads to the central question that remains unresolved: will the ANC be returned with a total greater or less than 60%?