On election day, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party (SRWP) sent out a message calling on its support base to go out and vote it into power.
“SRWP calls on the working class in general, and all working class organisations in particular – young, old, unemployed, employed, rural and urban dwellers of all races, sexualities and genders – to support the only political party interested in destroying the exploitative class system that is capitalism and building a society free of oppression and economic exploitation where power will rest in the hands of the majority: socialism,” the party said in one breathless sentence.
The call was accompanied by its chairperson, Irvin Jim. Throughout the election campaign, Jim and other SRWP activists had repeated the fallacy that the 350 000 members of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), of which he is the general secretary, would have a natural affinity for the party.
They would all abandon their political homes and follow the party that was founded by the union’s leadership. If only it was that simple. The naivety was just astounding.
Come election day, the working class – including the Numsa rank and file – had very different ideas. They mostly voted for parties that had much less pie-in-the-sky theories and who spoke to them in clear, plain language.
We will never fully establish how many of the 22 000 people who voted for SRWP by Friday were Numsa members or just random voters.
Jim and his comrades do not realise that they are actually talking to themselves when they mouth their verbose and abstract dreams.
Read below and ask yourself which voter sitting in Mookgophong, Libode or Augrabies would understand this manifesto diatribe about tackling the ills of capitalism via a “working class organised as a socialist fighting bloc against capitalism, both at home and abroad”.
“To achieve this organisation for socialism, the working class must play their vanguard role in the struggle for a socialist South Africa ... We believe socialism, as espoused by Karl Marx and developed by subsequent genuine revolutionary Marxists such as Lenin, is the only viable alternative to the ongoing global savagery of the world capitalist system,” the document says.
There is more: “The programme of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party is the abolition of the supremacy of the capitalist class, the organisation of workers into a revolutionary working class and the conquest of political power for a truly democratic, united, free and prosperous socialist South Africa.”
While the idea of a genuine left wing party is a sound one and would enrich policy discourse, such a force will not emerge from a bunch of people whose noses are buried in textbooks.
If Numsa, or anyone else for that matter, wants to champion that cause, they need to understand what moves voters and how to properly address them about their lived conditions.
Another person gifted with naivety is former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza. When Khoza stood up against malfeasance in Jacob Zuma’s ANC and received widespread support, she assumed that she could translate the backing into a political movement.
Drunk on adulation, she fell into the arms of political opportunists who convinced her that she was on to something special.
The African Democratic Change party was the result. Before long, the opportunists had forced her out, and she told us she was quitting politics because “my bigger mission is beyond the confines of politics and political parties”.
She then showed up at the corruption-fighting Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), where she was responsible for the local government and governance portfolio.
At the time, she correctly emphasised the need to build strong civil society players, and also spoke about her passion for developing African languages.
While the world was getting used to her being at Outa, she dropped another bombshell: she was quitting to focus full time on her academic work with African languages. But before we could deal with the aftershocks of that news, she dropped another surprise by announcing that she was going back to the African Democratic Change party and would be on its parliamentary list.
“We have all these freedoms. You can retire yesterday, and tomorrow you can decide that you still have some energy left and can still go back. I can unretire,” was how Khoza explained her flip-flop.
After an anaemic campaign that had a wobbly message, the party reached the 6 000 vote mark by Friday. Conceding defeat “graciously”, she said the party leadership “has to accept that we did not do enough work on the ground”.
Wrong again. It is not about the amount of work they did on the ground – it is about the fact that there was no space for their offering, which was as exciting as Butterworth’s nightlife.
Khoza and Jim’s formations were among the plethora of parties who made our ballot papers unwieldy when they should have known they stood very little chance of making an impact.
There were the purple cow people, who probably decided to form the party during a raucous night out at the pub.
There was the SA Maintenance and Estate Beneficiaries Association, which must have been formed after a bitter family feud. And there was even a party from Hammanskraal. Go figure.
In democracy, they say more is better and the more parties there are on the ballot, the better it is for plurality. It is also good to have jokers who make us laugh. But when a large part of the ballot paper is made up of these jokers, the funniness abates.