Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week, journalist Gareth van Onselen wrote a provocative article for Business Day Live that I found particularly timely and interesting. Titled “Why you should not trust a political analyst”, van Onselen questioned why we hold so-called political analysts to such a low standard of accuracy and grant them so much authority, when they so often get it wrong.
“These analysts are unaccountable,” he wrote, “They can talk complete fiction and be widely quoted, but do they ever apologise when they get it wrong? Are they ever fired? Do newspapers stop using their services? Not a chance. If anything, their celebrity seems to grow?
They operate beyond reproach or criticism.”
How often has the IFP been criticised by political pundits who prematurely penned our obituary? For 38 years the IFP’s imminent demise has been predicted, yet we entered democracy with more than two million votes, having had just 8 days to campaign. I have yet to hear an apology, an explanation or even an admission of error from our doomsayers.
As we head towards another national election, these analysts are again talking in terms of the IFP’s demise. By now it’s not surprising, but it is annoying. When journalists interview IFP leaders and ask things like, “How is the Party going to reverse its decline?” or “Can the IFP make a comeback?” I wonder whether they follow the news at all, and why they don’t question the infallibility of their cue-cards which parrot the “political analysts”.
Because the IFP has already reversed its decline. We have already made a comeback. In the 2011 Local Government Elections, the electorate returned the IFP to its position as third largest political party in South Africa, after the ANC and DA. We overtook COPE, which the analysts originally predicted would govern the North West and become official opposition in the Western Cape.
The IFP remains the official opposition in KwaZulu Natal, despite what the analysts called the “Zuma phenomenon” which saw the IFP losing votes to the ANC when the possibility of South Africa’s first Zulu President was put on the table. The “Zuma phenomenon” is clearly over, as demonstrated by the IFP’s by-election win in Nkandla, right on President Zuma’s doorstep.
All the analysts who predicted that the NFP would destroy the IFP were also proven wrong. The NFP is still battling the repercussions of disregarding “the will of the people” when its leadership unilaterally took the NFP into coalition with the ANC immediately after elections.
Divisions within the NFP threaten its future, and a lack of unique policy leaves the thinking voter wondering what the Party has to offer. Clearly it can’t offer anything too antagonistic to its coalition partner. Its effectiveness is curbed by its choice of bedfellow.
If the analysts were watching and interpreting voting trends, rather than “sensing”, “imagining” or “feeling” the political situation, they would surely come to the conclusion that voters are disillusioned by the NFP and are punishing the party for its duplicity in identity.
By-election results offer evidence, as the IFP won the highly contested KwaMashu, despite a campaign of propaganda and even violence from the NFP. We took Hlabisa from them, and uPhongolo. We have won in several areas where the analysts thought the NFP was strong.
Far from losing support, the IFP has also been increasing its share of the vote in by-elections. Not just winning. In Nqutu, we increased our percentage by almost 20% in one by-election, and increased it again in another. We did the same in Nongoma, increasing our share of the vote twice. Why then do the pundits continue to talk in terms of decreasing support? Clearly, the IFP has already turned the corner.
I wonder that the same old lines are repeated in the face of their evident inaccuracy. Such as the line that the IFP is confined to support in KwaZulu Natal, when nationally we have 18 seats in Parliament and are, as I said, the third largest political party.
Just recently we took an ANC stronghold in Mpumalanga through a by-election victory, and earlier this month we launched an election volunteer campaign at Johannesburg City Hall. Our work in the Western Cape is gaining publicity too, so that when we visit places like Mitchells Plain and address the drug abuse crisis, news stations carry it as a lead story.
But amongst the hype generated by the ruling party with its enormous funding, and the hype generated by the DA with its campaign to be the loudest, most critical opposition, with its own substantial funding, news about the IFP seldom receives the attention it deserves. Perhaps because it is not in the face of the analysts, they don’t take stock of the significance of what is happening in the IFP.
Instead, they stick to their tired lines about the IFP losing support and about me supposedly clinging to power. Yet the IFP held an elective conference just six months ago in which we amended our Party’s Constitution for the express purpose of creating a Deputy President position. We are in the midst of a leadership transition, and changes are evident.
One such change is the assembling of our A-team to contest the national and provincial elections in 2014. In doing this, we have had to redeploy some leaders and recall others, strengthening our position as a Party. We are not the only ones doing this. Just yesterday the parliamentary Chief Whip of the ANC was replaced, and the President of the ACDP, Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, spoke about his temporary resignation as a Member of Parliament in order to campaign for funds.
Unfortunately, there are always those who don’t like the boat being rocked, particularly when their own plum position in the boat is affected. Thus the IFP has endured criticism this week, not only from the usual political pundits, but from those who chose to leave the IFP once they had been redeployed.
In the hope of ingratiating themselves to our opponents, who can offer positions and salaries, former members often attack the IFP, and me.
It is par for the course in politics. But it still smarts, because these are people who happily drew an IFP salary and gravely professed loyalty to the IFP cause.
They now profess that the IFP has lost a great asset through their resignation. But in truth we lost their contribution some time ago, which led to their redeployment.
Dr Usha Roopnarain, who represented the IFP in Parliament, requested redeployment to the provincial legislature due to personal commitments, and the IFP agreed. Later, when she was asked to serve on National Council, she again declined due to personal commitments. Her continual unavailability for party work suggested that she could not give her all towards the election campaign and the Party felt she should be redeployed.
The analysts are now making a meal of her resignation, and her less than subtle suggestion that the IFP is somehow racist, sexist or undemocratic. If she felt this way before, she never mentioned it, despite being offered every platform to influence the party.
Mr Roman Liptak, a former researcher, asked to be placed on the IFP lists in 2009 to become a member of the provincial legislature. Based on his good work, we accommodated his request. But over time his style became less and less confrontational, despite his representing the official opposition in the Legislature. He seemed, in the end, to be wooing the ANC, until it became known that he was already in their pocket and intended to defect. When called to account, he quickly resigned.
The ANC was determined to turn this non-event into a fanfare, and brought the political analysts and the media along for the ride, knowing how they love to make a mountain out of a molehill. They even dragged up the resignation of Mrs Pat Lebenya, which happened more than a year ago, claiming that she and I had had some kind of confrontation. That is pure nonsense.
Mrs Lebenya represented the IFP in Parliament as the acting leader of the IFP Youth Brigade. However, she said she was studying towards a degree and thus had little time for her parliamentary work or party work. When a new Youth Brigade leader was elected, she was naturally withdrawn from Parliament. Taking umbrage, she resigned.
All three of these people left the IFP alone. They did not have constituencies or a following, nor did they bring any new members into the IFP. The analysts should consider how much of a loss this really is, once the dust of resentment has settled.
If I had to count the number of times I have been stabbed in the back, I would spend a good part of the day counting. But what would be the point? I cannot focus on the poor decisions of others. I can only look to my own decision-making and ensure that I always do what is best for my people, best for my Party and best for the country I love.
I hope that my epitaph one day reads, “All for the love of country.”
Until then, I’m afraid I will have to endure the premature and inaccurate epitaphs constructed by the so-called political analysts.
They may not be based on fact or science, but somehow they always sell print.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP