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Watch the electioneering folly begin

As if having to live through another year of Covid-19 mask-wearing, hand-sanitising, and social-distancing isn’t enough to excite us, 2021 also brings with it the joys of an election year, and all that means for the citizens. It’s been announced that next year’s local government elections have to be held between 4 August and 1 November 2021, giving us a good few months of political antics to survive amidst the pandemic.


What to expect


Like it or not, the politicking has already begun. Open any newspaper or scroll through any news feed, and you’re likely to come across images of smiling politicians emerging from their crystal palaces to unite with the masses. T-shirts will be emblazoned with these same maniacally smiling faces, undoubtedly worn by the millions of unemployed citizens who are, once again, placing their lives in the hands of those who’ve already taken so much.


The love-hate relationship with the media will go into overdrive, with local politicians calling for full press briefings as they hand over everything from stale food supplies to homes – well-built or not – to the starving and homeless individuals in the communities. We can watch how schools and clinics will miraculously be opened, despite the original opening date set a decade before. Babies and gogos will form a central feature in imagery that depicts the beating of heart of whatever political party is emulating empathy.


The politicians will call on media to provide full coverage of the excellent work being done – the work that should have already been done using taxpayers valuable contributions. And yet, when the reality of the South African experience is rightfully questioned, the backlash against the media will be vicious. Just watch this space.


Electioneering in the time of Covid-19


But, as with everything in life, Covid-19 is going to completely change the game plan – and I don’t just mean the nauseating branded masks. As it stands, there is no vaccine in sight and this pandemic is with us for a while, which is going to severely impact traditional pre-election tactics. Bussing in crowds to stand for hours in packed stadia as political promises spew forth is going to be almost impossible with continued social distancing. And in South Africa, political rallies are big business. With limited literacy levels and a lack of online connection, a large portion of the population will be missed by not being bussed in and thrown a bunch of freebie t-shirts.


So, where to from here?


In the United States, the great Covid-19 denier and commander-in-chief has decided to completely reject science and host crowded (well, according to him) rallies, despite the risk to human life. With South African government taking one of the most stringent stances on Covid-19 regulations, breaking these rules for electioneering will likely have even more backlash than benefit. There’ll probably be more township visits, donations to the increasingly desperate (with masks and sanitisers in tow), but will this be enough?


Social media has long been used in first-world elections, and it is fast-becoming a dominant medium in the South African landscape. EFF, which is targeting the young vote, has particularly leveraged Twitter as it’s preferred platform, with Malema calling his minions to action against Clicks following the publication of a racist TRESemme advert. The danger of this platform is the emergence of insidious bots (automated accounts controlled by computers), sock puppets (accounts controlled by people advancing an agenda) and trolls (people posting harmful content) – all of which are used to create tension and divide.


Whatever you do, read and watch everything with a questioning mind. We’re going into an election year in the middle of a pandemic, and the not-too-often-followed rule book is going out the window.


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