We all get an occasional red herring dragged across the trails we follow.

For political analysts this is an occupational hazard.

Our “sources” have their own agendas and we have to be eternally suspicious of the bright little threads of information we find scattered across our paths.

Here is a paraphrase of a piece of information I have heard several times and in several slightly different versions in the last few weeks:

Word from deep inside the ANC is that the ruling party’s own polling data is hinting at a catastrophic swing in their biggest urban African constituencies towards the DA.

Now I would hesitate to imply that serious spin doctors in our political kingdom would normally spend much time and energy ensuring that Nic Borain was lead or mislead in a particular way.

But during an election the parties throw prodigious amounts of energy into the void and at times like this even your humble servant occasionally gets caught in the crossfire.

So, without having any clue as to whose interests the viral spread of this particular snippet might serve this is the breadth of my suspicion:

  • The information is an exaggeration of something that is true and comes from DA strategists hoping to deepen the momentum achieved and create a sense of excitement in the electoral constituency and in the party machine.
  • The information is neither true nor false (is either invented or partial) and is put about by ANC strategists to mobilise previously loyal voters who, out of disillusionment or apathy, were unlikely to vote on May 18.
  • That the rumour is designed to galvanise the lethargic or disillusioned ANC party machine – a swing towards the DA by urban black professionals will be an intolerable repudiation of the current stewards of the ANC.
  • That the information is being put about as part of the myriad factional battles within the Ruling Alliance – most obviously as a stick to beat Jacob Zuma with in the lead-up to 2012.

Of course it might just be the plain and unadulterated truth that the ANC’s bespoke polls are indicating a serious swing in urban professional African constituencies away from itself and towards the DA.

This seems a logical consequences of some of the failures of delivery and the endemic spread of corruption and cronyism – but not a trend I would have imagined registering on the pre-election polls.

I do not expect any swing will massively change the structure of local government, but I imagine it would be symbolically important.

The most positive outcome of any such swing is one in which ANC party reformers use it to attack the drift  towards cronyism, corruption and incompetence in their party and government.

And, of course, any such  increased representivity of the DA will continue to act, in word and deed, as a check and balance on the African National Congress.

However before I get ahead of myself, let me just state that I think it is always safer to suspect that the information is leaking for a particular purpose before I conclude that I have got hold of the thread because of superior sources or methods, or because the ANC’s strategic centre has become a leaky sieve.

My sources may be superior and the ANC’s election campaign may be collapsing in a heap … but bitter experience teaches me that the more likely explanation is that someone is attempting to play me … like an out of tune harmonica.

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