EVERYONE can tell that the political stakes are high when the value of pre-electoral sweeteners rises to greater heights than before. d07e26d8d04b48f9a634cf2bacf4a67c

During a normal pre-electoral period in which a comfortable victory is reasonably expected, the challenged incumbent will offer ordinary packs of political ‘happy meals’ that come with China-made t-shirts and caps.

A series of free music festivals would be organised around the country and revellers would be provided with transport, often in rickety buses, not all of which will make it to or from the designated venue.


Note the generous sweeteners

It is hard not to be cynical in the current political climate, but ANC strategists are proving to be very smart, going for the kind of sweeteners that touch on progress that has to be made and which its opponents will find it hard to argue against.

Who in their right mind can argue against the R84m that was handed over to the Kruger National Park land claimants over the weekend? Relevant historical records have ostensibly shown that the claimants – or their parents and grandparents – were forcibly removed from their ancestral land decades ago to make room for the creation of the game reserve.

This was done by a racist apartheid government that had no respect for Africans and, at the time, saw no need to properly compensate them for the trauma of being removed from the land on which their ancestors were buried.

The SABC also came up with a master stroke when it announced last week that the music played on all its 18 radio stations and TV channels would, with immediate effect, be raised to a minimum of 90% local content. As if that was not enough, royalty payments to local musicians registered with the Southern African Music Rights Organisation, the South African Music Performance Rights Association, the Independent Music Performance Rights Association and the Association of Independent Record Companies will also go up from the current 3.2% to 4%.

This means they will get higher payments each time their music is played on SABC-controlled airwaves.

Given all the known historical abuse of local artists by recording studios and all types of agents, who in their right mind would refuse such a windfall? A great deal has been written over the years about former artists struggling through their pensioner years, and being buried as paupers.

This is besides their often reported poor wealth management practices and failure to put money aside for the times when they would no longer be able to earn an income.

So, it came to pass that high-profile musicians and representatives of local music associations were invited to assemble at the SABC to listen to their new hero, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, make the historic, well-timed announcement. None of them could hide their obvious excitement after the event; they praised him like a saviour sent down from the heavens.

The coming months will see RDP houses being completed in good time to be handed over in strategically selected locations around the country, with the media in tow. The volume of the fight against racism will be taken up several notches – thanks to numerous incidents of racial own goal scoring, insults against Africans, and the stupidity of those who have come out to explain such conduct away.

To top it all, Statistics SA has just released a report indicating that South Africa remains deeply segregated almost 25 years after the end of apartheid.


The ANC emboldened

In a strange way, all of the above sweeteners and problems fit nicely into a narrative that justifies the maintenance of the ANC in power, as it is seen by some as the only party with the wherewithal to irretrievably transform South Africa for the benefit of its African population.

Few can disagree that that there has been very slow progress in land restitution; too many poor families still live in inhabitable tin shacks and cannot afford to provide decent food for their children; many of our cities continue struggling to bridge the gaps created by apartheid spatial planning; an average black family lives on a much smaller monthly income than an average white family; racist attitudes persist and there is still widespread denial in much of the white community of the true extent of the emotional legacy the humiliation of apartheid has left on African people. (The oft-repeated call for Africans to “C’mon, move on, apartheid has ended” is at best insensitive, and at worst self-defeating.)

We can have a discussion, of course, about why successive ANC-led governments have failed to move faster on land restitution and all the other points discussed above.

We can also talk about ill-conceived cadre deployment practices, unnecessary administrative red tape, political arrogance, abuse of public resources, state capture, and other forms of corruption. But we cannot do so without admitting to ourselves that there remains much work to be done to bridge the remaining historic divides and entrench a much more inclusive economy.

In all likelihood, the immediate beneficiaries of the above pre-electoral sweeteners will – still blinded by recent gains – forget everything else and vote to maintain the status quo.

The tentacles of state capture will remain in place and in some cases – like the close Gupta associate who is apparently set to profit from lucrative Transnet contracts, as reported by the Sunday Times – extend their reach; and the apparent drive to politically weaken our democratic institutions will continue.

We shouldn’t wonder why everything seems to be working against democratic reason, when so much in our society remains skewed to tilt the electorate against change.