Many political parties are getting to the business end of their nomination processes in preparation for the upcoming local government elections. It is clear that these elections, for the first time since democracy, will be hotly contested and the restrictions brought about by the pandemic will make it a totally different ball game.
The traditional forms of campaigning, the door-to-door, mass rallies and many other physical contact methods are now in danger as they may not be the safest things to do during the pandemic. With the declaration of lockdown alert level 3 restrictions another curve ball has been thrown at the situation. As things stand, 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors are allowed to gather in any one place. How will the political parties who heavily relied on these traditional methods of campaigning operate now? Will they come up with innovative methods to spread their message to their support bases? Who will the change of the rules favour and who will it disadvantage? Are we putting too much importance on numbers at rallies and presence on social media platforms as an indicator of the level of support of an organisation? Does pervasive presence on social media platforms translate to support at the polls?
With the previous elections we have seen that massive social media presence on its own is not an accurate barometer of electoral support. The EFF, for instance had, and might still have, a massive social media presence and whenever its leader Julius Malema calls a press conference, many people tune in with the expectation to be informed, entertained and sometimes shocked. However, judging by the results of many by-elections in the last 12 months this has hardly translated into votes. Many people, when they have social issues, almost always turn to the EFF to intervene on their behalf and they almost always oblige.
The question therefore is – if they trust the EFF so much with their problems, why don’t they vote for them in equally great numbers during elections? What is it about the EFF and its leadership that makes them not trust them with being in charge of their lives? I believe this is what the EFF, with its many brilliant minds, needs to investigate and get to the bottom of. If they do not, very swiftly, they will stay a small party and a force that is called upon only when people want someone to be dealt with.
I am zooming in on the EFF because as the late comer among the top three, they are the ones who have no traditional base that goes back decades. The ANC, for instance, does not, at this point, need much to convince people to keep voting for them as the opposition has clearly not done enough to dislodge them from the hearts and minds of its support base. They can still rely on the emotional attachment people have for them, for one more election, although this has been eroding fast in the last few years.
The DA has doubled down and abandoned whatever pretence it had of being a party that wants to attract its non-traditional voters into its fold. They have decided since Helen Zille came back to maximise their votes from their traditional base and hold on to what they consider their strongholds. The limited space offered by the pandemic will make sure that all these parties will concentrate on keeping what they already have. I may be wrong, but I guess we will have to wait and see.