Burning flag advert divides South Africa ahead of pivotal national vote


Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free

A campaign advert by South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance that depicts the national flag burning has exposed the deep divisions gripping the country just three weeks out from a pivotal national election.

The 33-second advert, first aired on Sunday, shows the flaming paper flag as a voiceover warned that the governing African National Congress would be forced into a post-election deal with two radical parties when it loses its majority on May 29.

“Under this coalition of corruption, life will only get worse. This election is about survival,” it said of a possible pact with Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the MK party led by former president Jacob Zuma.

DA leader John Steenhuisen has defended the video as “the most successful political advertisement in our democratic history”, viewed more than 3mn times within 48 hours.

But it has provoked a heated backlash, with President Cyril Ramaphosa describing it as “treasonous”. Zizi Kodwa, the arts, sports and culture minister, suggested taking the DA to court for its “unpatriotic” act that had “desecrated” a national symbol.

Thuli Madonsela, a respected lawyer who in her previous post as public protector found that Zuma had abused his time in office, described the DA campaign as “ill-advised” because it showed disrespect towards “a symbol of triumph against apartheid”.

The flag, first flown on the day of the country’s inaugural democratic election in 1994 which saw Nelson Mandela elected as president, remains a powerful symbol among South Africans of the birth of the rainbow nation — a story tarnished in recent years by revelations of deep corruption in the governing party during Zuma’s tenure, and crippling power shortages that have capped GDP growth to less than 1 per cent.

The DA’s campaign has hit on a central concern of the election: who will the ANC enter into a coalition with if, as expected, it fails to get 50 per cent of the vote.

The DA, traditionally the party of white and other minority voters, has repeatedly warned of the likelihood of a “doomsday coalition” between the ANC, the EFF and Zuma’s party, arguing that the governing party would “do anything to stay in power”.

Nearly all opinion polls suggest the ANC will lose its majority, with some predicting its support would plunge as low as 37 per cent. An Ipsos poll of 2,545 registered voters, released two weeks ago, put support for the ANC at just over 40 per cent, the DA at about 22 per cent, the EFF at 11.5 per cent and the MK party at 8.4 per cent.

Helen Zille, DA chair, said the party had no intention of pulling back on this campaign. “We knew this response would come. We thoroughly expected it, and we went ahead,” she told the Financial Times in an interview.

She said Ramaphosa’s response was manufactured outrage. “Cyril says this is treason. Well, what is collapsing the healthcare system? What is destroying the electricity generation capacity? What is destroying the rail infrastructure? That is treason — not burning a piece of paper to symbolise how the ANC is doing so.”

Her party’s job was to think ahead and warn South Africans about the pitfalls of the country’s political decision. “When the analysts wake up 10 years later, they’ll present what we’re saying today as some new insight. But you can’t be wise after the event,” she said.

Ralph Mathekga, an independent political analyst, described the advert as a “very risky” political strategy. “Burning a flag isn’t part of the sort of normal political discourse leading up to an election. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see at a protest instead, so it’ll be interesting to see how voters respond,” he said.

Mathekga said the issues the DA had raised were not wrong, but it opened the party to criticism that it longed for a country under a different flag, rather than the one adopted at democracy and meant to unite South Africans.

He also said a partnership between the ANC and one or both of Zuma and Malema’s parties would be “unlikely”.

“I don’t see the ANC partnering with Malema or Zuma, at a national level, anytime soon. My sense is they know that partnering with the more radical parties won’t take them back to an electoral majority,” he said.

#Burning #flag #advert #divides #South #Africa #ahead #pivotal #national #vote

About Author

Leave a Reply