Thursday, April 15, 2004

The UDM and the ghost of Roelf
One of the things that has surprised me is the failure of the UDM to disappear. So far as I know, nobody gave them much of a chance but, as results from rural Transkei continue to trickle in, it seems likely that will secure more than 2 percent of the national vote and may even retain their position as official opposition in the Eastern Cape. Thus far they're running fourth in the national election and, at 6.5 percent, are only 2 percent behind the DA in the Eastern Cape.

In retrospect this shouldn't be too surprising. The fact that those who benefited from the existence of the Transkei, bureaucrats, civil servants, businessmen with connections etc have remained loyal to the former leader of that benighted homeland might raise eyebrows but it makes sense in its own way. What is interesting though is that Holomisa and the UDM have managed to retain some support outside the Eastern Cape. In 3 provinces he has support above 1 percent and in Gauteng and KZN his support is only just under 1 percent. It is instructive to contrast this with the other former homeland leader turned democratic politican, Lucas Mangope. His United Christian Democratic Party has done well in the North West which encompasses much of the former Bophutatswana, scoring 5.5 percent thus far, but it has failed to get more than half a percent in any other province.

What accounts for the difference between these two parties? Holomisa certainly has a higher media profile than Mangope which might play some role but I think the chief factor is that the UDM is still perceived by some as a genuinely mould breaking party (in contrast to the NNP who would like to be). Roelf Meyer may no longer be a part of the UDM, but I suspect that his legacy lingers on in the minds of those who care to look for it. Which is to say that for those voters for whom the ANC is too powerful, the DA too shrill and the IDs too much of a dark horse, the UDM is a viable alternative. Much hope was invested in the UDM in 1999 as the party which heralded a new era in SA politics (remember that endorsement by the Financial Mail) and that hope appears to linger on. If I was Leon or Buthelezi I would be on the phone to Holomisa trying to persuade him to join the 'Coalition for Change'. It would not make much difference to the power dynamics of SA politics but it would add further substance to the coalitions campaign to remake opposition politics.


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