I watched with interest Koos van der Merwe’s comments this morning on E-TV’s New Channel on the reasons behind the IFP haemorrhaging both nationally and in its stronghold of KZN. As an ex-IFP spokesman, the IFP’s further slide does not surprise me. I think the two key factors can be summarised as follows:
1. The ‘Zuma factor” removed one of the key reason d’ etre’s of the IFP’s existence. No more could it mobilise on the strength of its “Zuluness”; no more could it tap deep into overt or latent feelings of Zulu pride and nationalism. To use a traditional metaphor, Zuma thrust a Zulu short-stabbing spear into the IFP’s heartland. The IFP were caught off-guard by the ‘Zuma’ drawcard, and seemingly were unable to mount a viable and enduring challenge to his sheer magnetism. In effect, style (Zuma’s political charisma as the champion of the “everyman”) won over substance – not for nothing was Zuma voted SA’s most “sexy” politician. The body language and even some public statements by IFP leaders before the election spoke volumes of a party of despair – in contrast to the robust optimism of previous elections, that sometimes resembled the pre-fight hype of a prized fighter, an air of realism (some less charitable may say resignation and defeat) crept into some of its public utterances, as it contemplated an erosion of its traditional support base that in previous years would have been considered unthinkable. This support base has been ebbing away since the ’94 election, and despite Prince Buthelezi threatening to crack the whip on its activists, and threatening to purge its ‘dead wood’, it seems that, based on the election outcome, the KZN electorate has spurned the IFP as an “anachronism” that has failed to reinvent and re-define itself convincingly in the modern era.
2. Unforgiving minority communities continue to “punish” the IFP for its previous dogged insistence on making Ulundi the capital. Although the capital issue was not an election issue this time round, it was still fresh in the memory of voters from minority communities. Unfortunately, the IFP has not been able to shed this ‘liability’ in the minds of minority voters, as it has neither repudiated this stance – which clearly alienated significant sections of KZN – nor has it publicly conceded that this strategy was counter-productive. It therefore lost an opportunity to re-capture, and build on, the goodwill it previously enjoyed from some minority communities in KZN.
Personally, I’m disappointed that the IFP has squandered the opportunity it had since the last election to re-position itself as a “sexy” antidote to the ANC juggernaut and as a credible government-in-waiting. As our democracy matures, it’s inevitable that the number of competing voices whittles down, but the stronger the plurality our political voices are, the more vibrant our democracy.
Notwithstanding the above, I don’t believe the IFP will enter into a coalition at this stage. Like the Freedom Front Plus, diluting its identity is anathema to it. The most I see at this stage is strategic voting with the DA on issues of mutual interest.
In terms of the realignment and strengthening of opposition politics, it would make sense for the UDM and ID to absorb themselves into Cope, with Bantu Holomisa and Patricia de Lille perhaps put forward as Cope’s premier candidates for the next election. I hope that, with time, voters increasingly move away from ‘identity’ to ‘interest’ politics and that minority communities in particular embrace parties whose support bases are significantly rooted in the black majority.
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