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I wanted to discuss something called heuristics, which refers to the way we make decisions or reach an understanding about something, especially when the matter under consideration is complicated.
The word (heuristics) can mean the short cuts we take but the general field also deals with the many errors of thinking to which such short cuts can and do lead.
There was a particular line from a client note I wrote earlier this weak as I was considering the matter of Dianne Kohler Barnard’s booting from the Democratic Alliance that I thought about afterwards and wondered on what basis I had reached the conclusion.
The line was : “If I had to take a wild, but still informed, guess, I would say the DA is likely to pick up stragglers from this defection but the EFF will get the lioness’s share, and apathy the lion’s” (this being in relation to ANC losing support in urban black middle-class and DA attempts to keep its current support and also win some of the new.)
But then I thought I might as well show you the note before I went onto a discussion about heuristics to give myself something to use as a basis for the discussion. The version of my note below had some of the ruder but funnier bits pulled by those who have better judgement than me. But seeing as this is my website I thought I would leave in the the silly jokes as I wrote them.
SA Politics – 3 November 2015
- Kgalema Motlanthe says the alliance is dead… and the ANC respectfully nods its head. The SACP and Cosatu look increasingly as if they will be on their own soon.
- The Gauteng ANC and the Gauteng government fighting to bring the ANC as a whole back to the black middle class (and the middle classes generally).
- The DA uses the meat cleaver against supposed racist sentiments in its ranks – but a rose is a rose is a rose.
- Drought and failing infrastructure raises risk that water shortages will be the new load-shedding.
- … and in other news, ideal candidate Tokyo Sexwale stands for FIFA presidency and the ANC Women’s League marches on the Union Buildings in heroic defence of Jacob Zuma’s dignity.
Ex-President Kgalema Motlanthe says the unsayable truth that everybody knows and a calm and respectful ANC welcomes his intervention … the pigs have indeed taken flight
In an exclusive interview with Business Day yesterday (catch it on YouTube here but the whole – extremely interesting – text here), the widely admired and respected ex-ANC deputy president and ANC secretary general and ex-country president (from 25 September 2008 to 9 May 2009) said things about the ruling alliance that everyone knows but few have dared say.
The alliance is dead, Motlanthe declared. The three organisations have become one organisation. In so becoming, Cosatu expelled 350,000 workers by expelling its largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) as well as the leadership that had criticised the failure of Cosatu to take a stand independent of the ANC. The ANC would now meet as opponents those workers and shop stewards in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and other areas of the Eastern Cape in local government elections next year.
He said a number of other things that were stern – if coded – attacks on the current leadership of the ANC:
- Rising debt is fast approaching 50% of GDP. “We have a crisis and people who understand that are the people in Treasury because every week they have to go and borrow money in order to manage the current account… and they are raising this money in markets where political sentiment counts for naught”.
- “Nuclear, for instance, it’s going to cost trillions,” he said. “If you have no regard for public debt… and it’s public debt… not government … it would affect each of us, each individual South African” – Business Day 02/11/2015.
- He stood against Zuma at Mangaung party elections knowing he would lose because he refused to be part of a leadership where “it would be a constant battle just to get them to operate on the basis of the (ANC) constitution” – Business Day 02/11/2015.
- He thought the decision to expel Julius Malema was part of the rise of unethical and factional decision-making. Now “(what) the EFF is saying resonates with their (young people’s) own feelings.”
- The bullying tactics of the ANC in the National Assembly alienated people from minority groups – for example Afrikaners were “drawing back into their laager”.
The ANC put out a media statement, to the astonishment of many, on 2 November saying: “The African National Congress wants to affirm Comrades Kgalema Motlanthe as a leader and a voice reason” – and went on in the same vein – see here.
Cosatu diplomatically trashed him: “we find it regrettable that, he has ignored all the facts,” said the official statement. “Cde Kgalema was part of the leadership collective in government and in the ANC that defended labour brokers and e-tolls …” etc., etc. See here for the whole whine.
The SACP is, for the moment, maintaining a stunned silence.
Motlanthe is seen, in my opinion correctly, as an impeccably honourable man and representative of the ANC’s best instincts – which is largely why the Zuma machine had to squeeze him out after Mangaung in 2012. But there are new winds blowing through the ANC. Zuma is either on the retreat or happily edging towards retirement. The SACP and Cosatu are closer than ever to exiting (probably by being pushed) the ruling alliance.
While opposition is growing everywhere, it does not yet threaten the ANC’s overall and powerful majority. However, anyone with an eye on 2019, 2024 or 2029 – for example Motlanthe – the implacable consequences of the current trends are obvious. Defections from the ANC are closely linked to perceptions of corruption and the nepotistic behaviour associated with the Nkandla gang, perceptions that are most strongly held by the urban middle classes.
The ANC can either start or make visible a process of renewal at its National Congress in 2017 or a gradual decline, shift into rural areas and the defection of the urban middle classes is inevitable. This is precisely the road Zanu-PF took when it started losing ground in its most educated urban constituencies. That Zimbabwean journey is on-going and unhappy.
Gauteng – trying to seize the ANC by the scruff of its neck and pull it towards modernity and the urban middle classes
Look at this full page advertisement in Sunday Independent 1/11/2015:
… and this:
We have written extensively (here for the most detailed example) about the ANC losses in the Gauteng metropolitan areas in the May 2014 election and how this is applying pressure on the ANC to move back towards its urban middle class base.
The above advertisements are an almost perfect example of the marketing – and governance – campaigns the ANC Gauteng provincial government is conducting, undoubtedly with its eye on the 2016 local government and 2019 national elections.
As the link to our research above indicates, the ANC is vulnerable in its most sophisticated urban constituencies (Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and the Greater Johannesburg Metro in this case) and is least vulnerable in the poorly educated and poverty stricken rural areas.
(Some analysts interestingly believe that this is a ‘perverse incentive’, linked to this defecting black middle-class, for the ANC to underfund tertiary education. See the inimitable Johnny Steinberg argue this case, with all the requisite subtlety and disclaimers, in Business Day 10/30/2015 here.)
The Desperate Alliance
Ms Dianne Kohler Barnard, (now ex) shadow minister of police, was axed from the Democratic Alliance over the weekend after she was found guilty of misconduct, bringing the party into disrepute and contravening its social media policy.
What she had done was share a Facebook post that argued some aspects of government were better managed under apartheid strongman PW Botha than they are today. She claims not to have read the post properly, and immediately deleted it and apologised when she realised what it said. She was initially suspended but a disciplinary committee decided to expel her from the party.
On the face of it this appears to be a harsh and hurried sentence – unless the disciplinary hearing discovered that, in fact, Barnard did have apartheid sympathies and is an admirer of PW Botha. I find this unlikely – but that her re-posting of the article was careless and insensitive is beyond doubt. However, the punishment probably has more to do with DA desperation to woo suspicious black voters than any previously hidden demonic impulses in Barnard.
The DA has to make whatever strategic choices it feels are necessary, but we doubt that expelling Barnard or, in fact, electing Mmusi Maimane, will be enough window dressing to tempt the mass of voters into the shop. Risk is always highest as one steps from a safe ledge to another. The DA is stuck in a peculiar conundrum of needing to take care of its “racial base” in its ‘safe’ white and coloured constituencies (apologies for the casual South African terminology – we use these terms because they had precise historical/legal meanings under apartheid and they have on-going consequences and meanings in the present) while reaching out to the ANC’s fragmenting urban middle-class base.
If we had to take a wild, but still informed, guess, we would say the DA is likely to pick up stragglers from this defection but the EFF will get the lioness’s share, and apathy the lion’s.
Kidnap and MTN – risky business
City Press 11/01/2015 argues that the size of the proposed MTN fine for tardiness in deactivating millions of improperly registered SIM cards despite numerous warnings and fines, is because the matter “stopped being a purely regulatory issue and became a matter of national security” when unregistered MTN SIMs were used by kidnappers to negotiate a ransom for a former Nigerian finance minister in September.
The Nigerian Communications Commission has imposed a fine of N1.04 trillion, the equivalent of ZAR70b (a number of different estimates are given, but this is the general region). Read the full article here and another take here.
Regulatory and political risks are rising throughout the world, as sovereigns assert their power over markets, globalised or otherwise, partly in response to the Great Recession and partly in response to terrorist threats (and often to protect their own ‘national’ enterprises against foreign competition). It has now become common for massive fines to be imposed by governments on companies that are not necessarily domiciled in the jurisdictional area under that government’s control.
Drought and failing infrastructure raise risk that water shortages will be the new load-shedding
KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces have been declared disaster areas due to drought conditions that are worse than they have been for 24 years. Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said 170 water schemes (that usually means dams) in the country are currently affected by the drought – Eye Witness News 02/11/2015.
Water utilities are also under pressure after years of under-investment while having had to expand connections to millions previously denied access by discriminatory legislation under apartheid.
“Water shedding will take the form of pressure reduction to manage leaks in the system and an overall loss of assurance of supply,” said Anthony Turton, a professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Free State.
Food security, food price inflation and a multitude of industrial processes are water dependent. Water clean enough for human and animal consumption is also, obviously, important. The predicted length of the drought and the state of our increasingly rickety water and sewerage reticulation systems represent increasing risks in South Africa.
And in other news …
- Tokyo Sexwale, ex-Robben Islander, businessman, ex-Premier of Gauteng and ex-Minister of Human Settlements (and ex-too-many-other-things-to-name) has announced he will be making himself available to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. Sexwale has very little football administrative experience and I cannot think of anyone better qualified to run FIFA … it’s a perfect fit.
- The ANC Women’s League marched on the Union Buildings last Friday in the high priority cause of ‘defending Jacob Zuma’s dignity’. Some commentators have argued that it was a last ditch attempt. “That horse has bolted,” said one analyst who preferred not to be named Elspeth. Almost 300 members of the League were engaged in the mass march which was peaceful and well ordered.
So … my intention is to use bits of that to discuss heuristics, for those of you who are clamouring to hear more about that.
The Financial Mail recently conducted its annual survey of the fund management industry’s ranking of the broker analysts in South Africa.
As I have mentioned previously I find it faintly awkward crowing about it here. However, in the spirit of our age of frenzied self-promotion, I feel compelled to share with you the fact that I topped the ranking in the Political Trends and Industrial Relations category again this year.
(Click on the table and a larger version will load.)
This does not mean I am a better political analysts than anyone else on that list. It means that more fund managers who pay for the service voted me as useful to their investment process. At least part of the reason for that is this is my main source of income and I probably spend a greater portion of my time and effort on servicing the fund manager clients than do other analysts on that list. In addition, for at least one of the people on that list, this category is a minor priority for them (Elna Moolman of Macquarie First South is primarily an economist and she has been top ranked as such for several years.)
I value the ranking; the people who actually pay for the research are the ones who get to vote.
I am grateful to have had a consultancy arrangement with BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities which makes me part of that firm’s excellent and supportive research and sales team.
In this age of frenzied self-promotion I should be more comfortable about this, so let me just come out and say it: I was top ranked in the Political Trends and Industrial Relations category at the Financial Mail Analyst of the Year Awards last week.
Every year since 1977 the Financial Mail has sent a confidential questionnaire to domestic institutional fund managers and investment organisations to ask them to rate the research they get from brokerage houses. This year 35 institutional fund managers with more that R4 trillion assets under management were polled.
How this business (from which I derive a significant portion of my income) works, is JSE member firms (basically stock brokers) employ or contract specialists to produce research that somehow aids the fund manager in making investment decisions. If the research added value to the fund manager’s decision the broker is paid either directly or in the form of a commission of some kind. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate the award: the people paying for the service get to vote.
This year I am grateful to have been a consultant to BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities and as such part of that firm’s excellent and amiable research and sales team.
There are not many medals of honour, accolades, gold stars and trophies in the political analysis business (and quite right too), but I achieved an acknowledgement last week of which I am particularly proud.
Once a year the Financial Mail commissions a poll of the top 30 or so South African asset managers (life assurers, retirement and pension funds, private client investment managers and hedge funds).
This year the polled group had a total of about R3.7 trillion assets under management, a significant portion of which is the savings and pensions of ordinary South Africans.
How this business (from which I derive a significant portion of my income) works is JSE member firms (basically stock brokers) employ or contract specialists to produce research that somehow aids the fund manager in making the best investment decisions. If the research added value to the fund manager’s decision the broker would be paid either directly or in the form of a commission of some kind.
For the past year I have been lucky enough to have had a contract with Religare Noah Capital Markets to provide analysis of political trends and industrial relations to that firm’s fund manager clients. My name was thus in the pot when the fund managers voted and this is how it turned out:
I am particularly pleased to receive this award – and not only because it comes with a nicely framed scroll that, if I ever again get an office, will look quite handsome on the wall.
The main reason for my appreciation is that the ranking is based on a vote by investment professionals, who in one way or another, have to pay for the analysis.
I am about to move my main contract to a new firm, BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities which combines the strengths of powerful French investment bank BNP Paribas and Cadiz Securities, a South African-based specialist equity derivatives broking and research company.
So I thought I would use this moment and forum to thank Religare Noah Capital Markets for the work they have given me over the last year – I appreciate the support and opportunity and wish you all well in the future.
(Note: There are several names below mine on the scoreboard up there of excellent economists, strategists and other species of financial analyst who would not see themselves primarily as “political analysts” – so the fact that I have outscored them is no reflection of the value they add to the fund managers … and, in fact, several of them were highly ranked in other categories.)
I have been interviewed several times this week about the Cosatu strike.
Is this an irreparable breakdown between the ANC and Cosatu?
Does this have implications for Zuma’s bid for re-election at Mangaung?
How stable is the ANC/Cosatu alliance?
What do I think of Jackson Mthembu’s response to Vavi’s claim that the ANC says “Cosatu is exaggerating poverty of workers in South Africa”? (… or whatever … If you can’t follow the subjects and objects in that sentence check out the ANC statement here – or not.)
Where is the SACP in all of this … and is Cosatu split between its president and secretary general?
Where is all this leading … what is going to happen … what does it all mean?
I’ll give those of you who are interested a kind of answer to those questions in a separate post, but I first wanted to say: it’s a peculiar business this being a ‘talking head’, someone whose views are sought on something as slippery as what’s really happening in our politics, where it’s all leading and why.
This is not (only) an idle existential question to while away a windy Cape Town Saturday morning … it is brought on by a perilous attempt at humour by that leading bastion of irony and satire, the South African Communist Party and their laugh-a-minute, Umsebenzi Online – and more particularly the March 8 “Red Alert” that you can catch here.
(Perhaps only start reading from the “Succession battles at leading newspaper” headline. That way you might still be open to that old Marxist quip: history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce” – here for Wikipedia’s sketch of the source of that quote, Karl Marx’s excellent The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon – something I find it difficult to believe the writers of Umsebenzi Online have actually read or understood … but that is just by the by.)
The SACP’s satire is a teasing poke at … well, at people and institutions that do what I do for a living.
The premise is that Umsebenzi Online has come into possession of “dramatic new evidence” of a deep factional split at 195 Jan Smuts Avenue … which is the address of the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
The premise is that editor Nic Dawes is being challenged by “the ring-leader of the Young Turks” Matuma Letsoalo.
And the issue over which they are divided?
Whether to stick with the fading Julius Malema as the leading character in the soap opera the M&G produces or replace him with “the unions” as the new villain.
Umsebenzi Online then seeks the views of “two well-known, dial-a-quote, soap opera specialists – Aubrey Habib and Eusebius Mashele”* who proceed to pontificate incoherently about the split at the M&G.
There is a whole cast of villains in Umsebenzi Online’s slightly stilted (hardly unexpected that – Ed) attempt at humour.
And all the villains are ‘talking heads’ … people who have come to make their primary living from giving their views on the South African political soap opera.
I think there is a real question to be answered about political analysts – poorly asked and answered in this pinkish satire
Are the views of ‘political analysts’ any more reliable than anyone else’s? It’s not like there is a professional association that erects barriers to entry and puts in a whole lot of quality controls. And anyway such associations are usually just a gang hierarchy that protects the turf from competition.
My own answer – and I have to have one, or my tongue would shrivel up and drop out of my head and my fingers fuse uselessly to this keyboard – is that political analysts are to politics what critics are to art and literature. The critics don’t have to be artists or writers themselves – in fact, that might well be a drawback to them performing their function.
Critics come to be what they are through a market mechanism – their views are sought out and some consumer ends up paying for them. The art consuming public is looking for confirmation, information or rebuttal; they are looking for a view against which they can balance their own view, or learn something from – or just to think about.
The best critics are a mirror for the artist – trusted or hated by the practitioner, it doesn’t necessarily matter.
Rubbish critics can find an oppulent home in rubbish publications and TV stations – because mediocrity does so often rule the mass market mechanism.
Fine critics can quietly go about their business and eke out an interstitial existence of quiet excellence and the small comfort of professional respect.
Or the other way around.
I am all in favour of communists using satire to further their aims – it is so much more desirable than the dystopian bureaucratic terror which appears to be the default instrument – when available – of this vanguard of leading intellectuals.
But I wish this satire had been more … well, funny … and clever – basically, more thoughtful. We are bludgeoned daily by the views of “experts” – and it might not have escaped you that I both bludgeon and am bludgeoned in my turn.
How and why political analysts come to be part of our lives and part of the cultural and public intellectual process is an important question – one we should think about before consuming the sometimes suspicious fruits they offer.
* Those fake names are a melding of the real Professor Adam Habib:
(Right you four, you can send donations to The Association of Professional Standards in Political Analysis for the free publicity – Ed)
The déjà vu is washing over me like the phantom symptoms of a late winter bout of hypochondria.
I remember the lead-up to Polokwane.
The thuggish crowds outside Jacob Zuma’s court appearances.
The man we had known was in Shaik’s pockets since 1993, he who famously couldn’t keep it in his pants, the rape accused shower-after-baby-oil-sex to fend off HIV/AIDs who had only been doing his Zulu man duty by her, Umshini wami mshini wam … it was entirely impossible that my ANC would ever allow this man to rise to the venerable chambers previously occupied by heroes of the stature of Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela … and kept lukewarm by Mbeki’s occasional visits.
And my paying clients insisting I make a call: will he become president?
Well, say I, Mbeki only appointed him deputy because he needed to fend off the challenge from Winnie a-fate-too-awful-to-be-contemplated-by-the-financial-markets Madikizela-Mandela. He had a certain ethnic appeal, so to speak, in the Inkatha heartlands of Kwazulu-Natal but Mbeki knew no-one would ever seriously propose him as president!
And as I knew, you don’t bet against Thabo Mbeki, the master of palace politics …
… and now here we are again.
The weekend the charges against Malema were announced, SARS, the Public Protector and the Hawks were reportedly deep into investigations of their own.
How could Malema hope to sell himself as a victim just as his lifestyle and his predation on the public purse became the subject of such intense scrutiny?
Can the man whose clothes and accoutrement cost the annual income of any twenty of the youths he hopes to represent … represent them or gain their sympathy?
Yes! I need to shout in my own ear. Yes they can … they have … they will again.
Maybe not this time.
This situation has its own dynamics and there is no point in second guessing what the ANC Disciplinary Committee might decide after it finishes meetings this week – but we mustn’t pretend to ourselves or anyone else that we can tell the future.
Will Malema’s minions brute about the streets wearing 100% Juju t-shirts and threatening to fight to the death for their … leader?
Will this sway the process?
Where is the unswayed process going anyway?
There are only two things I know for sure.
The first is that I do not know what the future holds for Julius Malema. He could be banished from the ANC. His disciplining might provoke a backlash that conceivably could lead to Zuma’s downfall and to Mangaung being an even more corroding rerun of Polokwane. He might disappear into obscurity in the wasteland that (until very recently) has been politics outside of the ANC. He might spend a few years in the wilderness and return chastened and wiser and work his way back to becoming the coming man.
The second thing I know for sure is that my desire for particular outcomes is a serious barrier to me thinking sensibly about which outcomes are most likely.
I know this is not a great and profound insight – nor am I here on the road to Damascus or any particular destination; intellectual, metaphorical or spiritual.
I do hear the breathless clamour of the prediction and analysis industry prophesying the best and the worst of all possible worlds – depending on the emotional predisposition of their target market.
Predicting the worst is often a mistaken attempt to warn against a particular course of action … it’s a political act and an act of propaganda.
Predicting the best is often a semi-religious act, a sort of shamanistic incantation, willing a particular future into the present.
For me, I admonish myself daily:
It is okay to hope the ANC will rediscover its soul and its leaders their long-lost spines. But hoping for a thing does not make it more probable. No-one knows what is going to happen with Malema. So sit on your hands and wait like the rest of us.
I think both the DA and the ANC might be on the verge of an evolutionary spurt that will change what they are and thus see them shifting into new ecological niches in our political landscape.
I also think that the landscape itself changes much slower than we think or hope.
arism is a term for a species of political error – and I dredge this up from the gleaming days of my youthful involvement in the ‘mass democratic movement’ in South Africa. The taxonomic system we developed for naming and defining ‘mistaken beliefs’ was tiresomely thorough and self-righteous, but I have to confess that I still dip into that frame of reference and find there useful analogies and ways of understanding the world.
arism means believing that through pure force of will, cleverness of organisation, brilliance of strategy, accuracy of tactics and shear hope, anything could be achieved no matter what the inherent conditions.
I am convinced that the Democratic Alliance foray into the townships and squatter camps is either a form of volunt
arism or it will result in the DA becoming something else entirely – and ultimately something very similar to what the ANC has become.
This somewhat pessimistic view of politics is based on the assumption that politicians and political parties do not have a free hand to sell what they like to whoever (whomever?) they like.
The racial divide in South Africa and the racial solidarity of the groups which face each other across that divide is a deep structural phenomenon and not a casual consumer preference.
When Julius Malema talks about “the Madam and her tea girl” referring to DA chief Helen Zille and the DA MP and national spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko he finds a resonance.
This ‘resonance’ is not something created by clever marketing and it is also not something that can be got rid of like Vodacom changing its colours from blue to red.
Groups of people, their ideology, culture and attitudes can be changed – particularly in the powerfully denaturing environment of modern industrial cities. This is how an African peasantry became the urban proletariat of South Africa’s modern capitalism. And it was this process that created the possibility of an ANC that represented all black Africans in the country and not just specific tribal groups.
But do not overestimate the power and speed of this process. Think of the ethnic boroughs in New York; think of the Xhosa/Zulu tussle in the ANC and think of the unbridgeable divide between the black and white experience in South Africa.
South Africa’s history, including colonialism and Apartheid, has a powerful momentum in our lives today. I think this means that the hope that the DA with more black faces and branches (but essentially the same ideology , structure and principles) could make a serious electoral challenge will remain just that – a hope.
A party still called the Democratic Alliance could displace the ANC, but only by becoming something very similar to its foe i.e. led by black people with a history of opposition to Apartheid and primarily about redressing the past, directing state resources to benefit black people and channelling wealth towards the emerging black elite.
The “rump” of the DA are good old white liberals (in the best sense of the word) who have their ideological roots in the closing years of Apartheid.
A party with such a “rump” will never (in any time frame that could be relevant to us) represent a majority of black South Africans – even urban professionals, even a significant minority. To represent those people the DA would have to be of those people, run by those people and be an instrument to further the interests of those people.
I do think urban African professionals are in the process of defecting, with disgust, from the ANC.
But I will be looking for a Movement for Democratic Change lookalike (to the ANC’s ZANU-PF) to emerge from the South African political dynamic.
That ultimately means I am still looking for an organised defection by the industrial working class and their middle class allies that will emerge from a split in the Ruling Alliance – that would probably put Cosatu on one side and the ANC on another.
On this basis the ANC could lose control of the cities to a political formation like the MDC – although not one that could be portrayed, as the MDC has been by ZANU-PF and by the ANC (which can already sense the threat), as having been funded and set up by white farmers and other ‘enemies of national liberation’.
There is a part of me that hopes I am wrong … that we have it within ourselves to escape the awful gravity of our history; that we really are free to choose our future.
My view, however, is that the choices we do have are all within a narrow band of possibilities confined by the deep structural features of our past and present.
Thus the ecology of our society and our politics remains the same – or at least changes extremely slowly – but the creatures that inhabit the landscape are modified by natural selection and drift and displace each other in the niches that are available to them.
(My next post will deal with the question of what the ANC is becoming as it changes its niche as the party narrows and shifts – geographically, ideologically and socially.)
This added after publication:
The über-troll of South African political analysis R.W. Johnson added this gentle corrective to the version of the above article published on Politicsweb: “Am I the only person astonished by the fact that Mr Borain can’t spell voluntarism ?” He’s quite right about this – as he is about so much – although he is usually also interesting. He was, appropriately, hanging out with the racist bullies in Politicsweb’s comments section, so I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at his sneering tone.
The word is voluntarism (not volunterism, as I originally had it … I got it wrong because I mistakenly thought ‘we’ had made it up and I could therefore spell it as I pleased) and it means: “any theory that regards will as the fundamental agency or principle, in metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology” – from Dictionary.com.
As the cannonade and sharp retorts of the Municipal Election become deafening, it strikes me how alike are elections and wars.
Both these human endeavours are faced with comparable technological, communication, infrastructural and personnel challenges.
Generals preparing for war and political leaders for elections have this in common:
- They must have a game plan and clear objectives, including a realistic view of the chances of success and the costs involved in achieving objectives.
- There must be lots of money available.
- They must have a clear understanding of the enemy and the enemy’s resources and capabilities.
- They must have precise information about the terrain upon which the battles will take place and the loyalties of the citizens who inhabit that terrain.
- They must have a complex and balanced organisation at their disposal which contains the full capabilities and capacities that might be required – from senior management down to foot-soldiers, and encompassing every specialist skill that might be applicable to the proposed campaign as well as the most varied arsenal possible.
- They must have systems of supply and replenishment – allowing funds and resources to flow to where they are needed.
- They must have a system of communicating to every level of the force and auxiliary services;
- They must have a system of communicating to the world and general public not directly involved in the war.
I suspect one could search for more complex similarities, but the issue of interest to me is how both elections and war require – or cause, I am not sure which – propaganda and distortion of the truth.
We have all heard the notion: “The first casualty in war is the truth” – (Aeschylus 525 BC – 456 BC) and it is apparent listening to what the principal players in our election say of themselves and each other that “the truth” seems infinitely elastic and vague.
The most obvious contravention of the rules of engagement have been Julius Malema’s comments in Kimberly over the weekend: “We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”
But Malema is just a weapon that gets deployed in the battle, and I doubt any one army in this conflict is innocent of the impulse to use every single weapon in its arsenal.
And we shouldn’t be surprised.
For the strategists and generals are up to their necks in the campaign, it is all they think about, all day and all night, sleeping, eating and on the toilet. As the final day comes closer, every possible advantage, every weakness of the enemy, every inch of ground, every weapon in the arsenal … becomes important and worthy of exploitation.
A kind of frenzy takes over the leadership and all caution or higher feeling gets brushed aside.
It’s win at all costs … and that is pretty much where we are right now.
And that is the problem.
In nine days time we are all going to look up from the carnage and find a world very slightly changed by the battle that has been fought.
It is only myopic politicians and generals who could possibly believe their little war/election justified the distortions and propaganda they have deployed.
Remember the ANC’s online leather jacket sale; those amazing garments seemingly designed for a camp 1970’s version of a black Star Wars?
And the Stabproof Protektorvest (TM) that some enterprising person tried to flog to 2010 World Cup visitors to South Africa who needed to withstand the blows they could expect to be rained upon them by the hordes of ‘machete wielding tribesmen’ the UK gutter press was warning about?
Well, what do you make of how Julius Malema and his delegation arrived at court yesterday to defend against the charge that singing Dubula iBhunu constitutes hate speech?
… and in case you can’t see the accessories properly, here is another one:
So what do the Nazi party, the AWB and the ANC Youth League actually have in common?
Certainly a sense of camp elegance and style; dark flowing fabric and the gleam of steel and silver, cut through with the clean heroic red.
And the instinctive understanding of the marketing value of a bit of curling-lip arrogance, creaking leather and a hint of sex and violence on the side.
And perhaps a few other tendencies and traits that will reveal themselves over time.
(The sources of those pics were as follows: the accessory close up was: http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/article1016881.ece/Jujus-guards-cause-chaos and the one of Malema surrounded by his elegant guards came, I think, from http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/who-is-malema-at-war-with-1.1056002.Please visit those sites.)