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Tue Sep 02 18:42:58 SAST 2014

Agang needs more than vision

Justice Malala | 25 February, 2013 00:37
Justice Malala
Image by: The Times

In about 14 months we will all go out and vote in national and provincial elections. Well, actually, I fib: some of us will go out and vote.

It is worth reflecting on the number of those who are not going to vote. It is also worth thinking about other numbers associated with that election; they make for interesting scrutiny.

Those who are commenting on the chances of success of Mamphela Ramphele's political "platform", Agang, would do well to look at these numbers too.

In the 2009 elections about 23million South Africans were registered to vote by the Independent Electoral Commission. About 7million people eligible to vote did not register.

Of the 23million registered to vote, 76% did so. About 5.4million voters stayed away.

So, of 23million registered voters, the ANC only got 11 650 748 to place their cross next to its name and the face of its president, Jacob Zuma.

That is less than half of all registered voters in South Africa for the 2009 election.

What lies behind these numbers? We know that 6million voters got out of their homes, queued at a polling station and voted for a party other than the ANC.

An additional 5.4million registered to vote but for a multiplicity of reasons did not.

It could be that they love the ANC very deeply but could not get out and vote. It could also be that they looked at the party of Nelson Mandela and just felt that they were wasting their vote. Or, they could have looked at all the parties on the ballot paper and felt that none of them could make a difference in their life.

In a nutshell, the ANC - with its history, its huge wads of election cash and desperate measures such as hauling out a sick Nelson Mandela from Qunu to be paraded in front of supporters - still managed to attract less than half of registered voters.

The rest of the crowd also failed spectacularly: those 5.4million registered voters did not feel it worth their while to get out and vote for the opposition either.

That said, it is worth noting that the top three opposition parties - the DA, COPE and the Inkatha Freedom Party - together got 5million people to vote for them in 2009. With COPE imploding and the IFP being obliterated by a tsunami of Zuma-led Zulu nationalism in KwaZulu-Natal, the question is whether these two parties can bring anything to the opposition shindig in 2014.

I say they will bring little, and their performance will be terrible in 2014.

So here is the thing. We know that 12million people eligible to vote either did not register to vote (about 7million) or did register but did not vote (5.4million). This is improbable, of course, but anyone who could get just half of this number to turn up at the polls and vote for him would have brought the opposition onto a par with the ruling party in the National Assembly.

That's not going to happen. To achieve that, a party would need a huge amount of money, organisational ability and cohesion, plus members. In essence, you need the type of organisational reach that the ANC has - deep in communities across the country.

You also need a lot of money. After the 2009 election one of the ANC's key campaign organisers, Nomvula Mokonyane, said the party had spent at least R200-million on its 2009 campaign.

This is a gross underestimate. The party must have spent in excess of R500-million on its various activities - and still it got only 11.6million people to the voting booths. Whoever wants to challenge the ANC will have to match that kind of spending.

But there is no denying that 19 years after our first democratic election there is a deep vein of unhappiness with the way our country is being run.

For those with political ambitions, the numbers show an opportunity. This is where Ramphele's Agang might have a chance.

Its problem, however, is that, in its short lifetime, Agang has displayed absolutely no grasp of the sheer hard slog of electoral politics. Anyone who wants to grasp this opportunity will need to be a lot more businesslike, a lot more organised and a lot more efficient.

Agang, at the moment, feels like a band of five academics who can analyse the ANC administration's failures effectively but fail the crucial test: getting people to get up and vote for them.

Agang has 14 months in which to fix this. It is an awfully short time to make a big dream become real. There are at least 12million sceptical voters out there, ready for the plucking.

Unfortunately, Agang started with a whimper and not a bang.

That is not good enough.

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Tue Sep 02 18:42:58 SAST 2014 ::