Politics in the Western Cape has always been interesting, but it looks like it will become even more fascinating over the next few months as we head towards the national elections scheduled for the middle of next year.
The ANC has shown its intentions with the appointment of former premier Ebrahim Rasool as the party’s election co-ordinator for 2019.
The DA appears to be caught up in internal politics, mainly revolving around the position of mayor Patricia de Lille, while the EFF is probably watching this with great interest and anticipation.
For the first time in a long time, it looks like the province is up for grabs, and whoever can convince the electorate that they can deliver “a better life for all” (to steal the ANC’s 1994 election campaign slogan) will surely walk away the victors.
From my interactions with Rasool over more than 30 years, he has always impressed me as someone who has the interests of the broader society at heart. He is someone who can think beyond the ANC, even though there is no questioning his loyalty to the party.
His “Home for All” campaign, which he ran as premier more than 10 years ago, indicated a willingness and understanding of the complexities of the Western Cape, where identity politics play a much more significant role than anywhere else in the country.
Part of the reason for this is probably the preponderance of people known as “coloureds” in the Western Cape, which is unlike any other province in South Africa.
Rasool also did remarkably well as South Africa’s ambassador to the US where he was based throughout Barack Obama’s terms in office.
By deploying Rasool to head up its election team for next year, the ANC is hoping to be able to convince Capetonians that it deserves another shot at ruling the city and the province.
They are also hoping that “Ramaphoria”, the excitement created for the party by the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the party and the country, will rub off on the Western Cape.
The ANC is hoping to capitalise on the DA’s obsession with getting rid of the popular De Lille as mayor. None of the people who have been touted as replacements for De Lille, enjoy even half her popularity.
But politics has never been that clear cut and has never only been about personalities. This is especially the case in the Western Cape, where progressive intellectuals have struggled to understand the ANC’s difficulty in convincing the electorate to support the party, despite the apparent popular support for someone like Nelson Mandela.
There have been allegations of racism against those members of the “coloured” community who supported first the National Party and then the DA against the ANC, despite the role the ANC played in the liberation of all South Africans.
This is probably partly true, but voter choices could also be because of the perception among voters about who would be best-placed to deliver improvements in their lives and communities.
The ANC will have to convince the voters of the Western Cape that the Jacob Zuma era, which was punctuated by an elite enriching themselves at the expense of the majority, is truly over and that the new administration is focused on delivery.
The DA, being the incumbents in the province, has an advantage in that they can show concretely what they have and will deliver.
It does not help for the ANC to show what they have delivered in other provinces.
It will be interesting to see whether there will be any fall-out from the DA’s axing of De Lille, which the party appears determined to do.
However, there is no guarantee that people who supported De Lille until now will follow her wherever she decides to go. People appear to be more loyal to parties than to individuals.
Whoever wants to win the Western Cape will have to convince the majority of its residents - in this case the “coloured” community - that they have their best interests at heart.
Rasool will have to do this on behalf of the ANC, but his reassurances will have to be backed up by the people in government who will have to deliver on his promises.
Being chosen to be the ANC’s election co-ordinator in the Western Cape is, in many ways, a poisoned chalice. The ANC’s support in the province is at an all-time low and improving it marginally will not do much good.
It will require a superhuman effort by all involved to improve it to a level where it can matter.
If anyone is up to the challenge, then it is Rasool, who has proven himself over the years. But there is an argument to be made against recycling leaders and not blooding young leaders who would be more in touch with young voters who are, after all, the future.
It looks like the election campaign in the Western Cape will once again live up to expectations. It has never failed to provide much excitement in the past.
(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 28 April 2018)