The election campaign finale’s over the weekend capped a somewhat demoralising campaign season, with messages belying the fierce contest for the hearts and minds of South Africans, in this the 6th democratic election.
The messaging from President Cyril Ramaphosa, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and EFF leader Julius Malema at their final rallys was perhaps their individual best in the campaign season.
But whether it is enough to drown out the knowledge that whichever way Wednesday’s poll turns out, the country remains in a socio-economic trap, from which it cannot quickly — or easily — be extricated, remains to be seen.
Getting voters to turn out at all is perhaps the single most crucial task now left for the big three parties on election day.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plea to voters on Sunday was an emotional one.
The event itself, which the party says was attended by some 70 000 people, was an energetic reminder of the sheer force of loyalty to the liberation movement.
The ANC flag littered the stadium, blowing in the wind, as an emotional reminder of what was — of what was before HIV denialism and patronage, before Zuma and state capture.
Ramaphosa’s address was one in which the refrain “give me a chance” echoed, even though it was never explicitly stated, by the man who was Nelson Mandela’s first choice for president all those years ago. In doing so, Ramaphosa took the weight of a nation on his shoulders, amidst near-impossible odds.
He turned to the electorate, to issue a “clarion call to action” in the face of betrayal from those in his party seeking to undermine him.
He spoke to South Africans across the spectrum — “black and white, young and old, women and men”.
His address was delivered as concrete evidence emerged that ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was an active participant in the formation of the African Transformation Movement.
The new party, contesting elections for the first time, is made up of SA’s messianic churches, which rose amidst the axing of former president Jacob Zuma.
While the hand of the Zuma faction in the party was known, the Sunday Times reported on a sworn affidavit which confirmed that Zuma and Magashule were active participants in the creation of the party.
It marks a stark betrayal, one which Ramaphosa and those loyal to him will be forced to grapple with in the sixth administration, while at the same time attempting to restore a nation battered by a political and economic crossroads.
Ramaphosa’s opening words captured this as he said: “This is a decisive moment in our history.”
“This a moment when we have to choose between the past and the future. We can choose to return to a past of conflict and anger, of corruption and hunger. Or we can choose to embark on a path of renewal and go forward to a future of peace and stability, jobs and progress.”
He went on; “Let us declare with one clear and loud voice that we choose to go forward. We choose hope over despair. We choose renewal over stagnation. We choose growth over decline.”
He was speaking to both ANC members and the South African electorate when he admitted the mistakes of the past and made a tacit appeal for another chance.
A day earlier, Maimane and the DA painted the Dobsonville Stadium blue.
His message, delivered in his characteristic “Obama style”, was to those who are simply fed-up with placing their faith in the ANC, only to be betrayed and disappointed, yet at the same time fearful of an unimagined future of a country governed by anyone other than the liberation movement.
The message was quite singular: “Be brave.”
It arguably should have been at the heart of the DA’s messaging from the beginning of its election campaign. It too was spot on, emotional and imploring.
“You need to be brave and perhaps do something that you haven’t done before when you go to vote on Wednesday.
“We need to step out of our comfort zone if we want great things for our country… above all, we must be brave when we make our choice on Wednesday.
“I am not telling you it’s going to be easy; I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it,” he said.
This was a powerful message to an electorate who did not betray the ANC in 2016 — even at the height of their discontent over its excesses — by voting for another party, but instead chose to abstain from voting altogether.
Back to Sunday, this time to the Orlando Stadium, where the EFF held its final rally with thousands turning up for a taste of the gospel according to Julius Malema.
It was a haughty message of strength, for the country’s third largest party, which obtained just 6% in the last election, but is expected to nearly double that this time.
Malema, after greeting the thousands gathered “in the name of economic freedom”, preached a message of victory and hailed his disciples.
He lauded the EFF “ground forces” who he said ran a stellar campaign — disciplined and focused — and thanked them for it.
“The ANC is shaking because of you, the ANC shaking in Gauteng, the ANC is shaking in Limpopo, the ANC is shaking in Eastern Cape, in North West, in Northern Cape, in KwaZulu Natal.”
“Those things that comrades are doing in KwaZulu Natal are not only shaking the ANC, they are shaking me and the leaders of the EFF, Natal is showing us flames,” he said.
This is after the EFF ground-forces in the province pulled off a massive march through the streets of Ethekwini without incident last week.
“They thought we were a Mickey Mouse organisation, now they realise, we are a force to be reckoned with, you cannot talk about the future of the EFF, we are the future.”
While it is easy to dismiss the cocksure message from Malema as an excess of youth, it is a reality that the EFF is likely going to be the only political party posting significant growth in the upcoming polls.
Now that the campaigns have all but wrapped up, attention turns to voters. The parties have set out what they say are clear choices: A vote for the ANC marks a chance for Ramaphosa and the liberation movement, while a vote for the DA marks a risky act of bravery and a vote for the EFF is a jump into the unknown and supporting a force that is slowly becoming unstoppable.