Only hours to go until a truly historic day in this young country. No matter how it turns out, this election, the wounds it has exposed, and the promises it holds will reverberate for a long time to come. I have been privileged to witness two elections of great historical magnitude — this one with a different kind of front row seat — in such a short period of time. I can only hope that I continue to be under the spell of that old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

I will likely be away from blogging during the next few days, as I will be doing a lot of actual work while election results filter out. For now, read on to see some pictures that I’ve taken over the last month or so of the campaign.


Alright, I’m off the crazy train like Baleka Mbete on a bus in Soweto. Doesn’t make much sense except I did somehow end up following the deputy president as she rode a double-decker bus through primarily big shopping malls in the historic township. Here’s a video piece I produced today about the bus tour.

To complete this round-up of recent work, I have a an article and video about my time spent with the three main political parties here as volunteers went door-to-door campaigning in Johannesburg area townships. Below are full-size versions of the pictures that I took now up on The Times website.





I once wrote that imitating Obama was an infallible campaign strategy. Allow me to reconsider. Saturday’s Weekender newspaper reported that COPE is considering selling a limited number of posters of their presidential candidate, Mvume Dandala, done up in the style of Sheperd Fairey’s rendering of Barack Obama. The Weekender, which for some reason does not have this article up anywhere easy to find on the Internet, produced a mock-up of the poster under consideration. Once I saw it in the familiar red, white, and blue of the Fairey portrait, I realized how stupid this idea is. What do these colors have to do with South Africa, except for being the colors of the old National Party?

Message to COPE messaging strategists (if you haven’t already defected back to the ANC): At least coordinate the colors of this poster to those of the South African flag if you insist on following through with this idea. Does COPE really thinks they can raise funds by selling posters any idiot can make at the free Obamicon Web site?

This reported strategy dovetails with that of the COPE slogan, which appears to have been shortened from “Vote for change and hope. Vote for COPE” to “Vote for hope. Vote for COPE.” While the longer iteration appeared on early posters from the new political party, the latter appears on the huge billboards that have sprung up along highways, and all over buildings in central Johannesburg this weekend.

Some commentators have complained in the last few weeks about the paucity of creativity displayed in the campaign posters of various parties. The  posters hang on street poles as far as the eye can see. Writing in the Mail & Guardian, Ivor Powell despaired over the posters’ banal qualities:

What shines out more than anything from posters marking the hustings is a single lack of clarity and commitment in the messages the parties are trying to put across. In most cases it is hard to believe they even want to win.

This weekend, many of the smaller parties have finally gotten around to hanging up posters to compete on the poles that are home to the publicity work of the ANC, DA, IFP, ID, VF+, and UDM. The Azanian People’s Organization posters caught my eye while driving through Soweto yesterday. They are the first to include pictures not of their presidential candidate. Instead pictures of children beckoned with slogans concerning actual policy programs. Pensions, health care, and education took the place of fluff about hope or “working together” to “do more.” I take this as a symptom that the odds are stacked very much against electoral success for AZAPO.

I’m midway through a report following around different political parties campaigning in the Johannesburg area. My general impression is that people in the townships are frustrated with the pace of change here. At the same time, many still feel tied to the ANC and its legacy in the anti-Apartheid struggle.

In Alexandra, people were almost uniformly furious about the lack of progress being made in alleviating their absurdly horrible housing conditions. They complained about cronyism regarding the handing out of RDP houses, the inadequacy of RDP houses, and general lack of attention paid to the struggling township. Shacks are literally on top of shacks, while dirty sewage, heaps of garbage, and unclean port-o-potty toilets line many of the streets. People openly admit, however, the ANC is the only party they will vote for if they vote at all.

In Klipspruit, a predominantly colored section of Soweto, most people were unhappy with the progress of the ANC and professed a support for the range of opposition parties: DA and COPE, as well as a smaller party with a colored candidate standing for president: the Independent Democrats and former ANC member Patricia de Lille. Klipspruit aside, Soweto, which is a predominantly black township (can’t we just call it a city instead of sticking to these Apartheid-era anachronisms), will almost certainly turn out overwhelmingly in favor of the ANC.

This election does not look to be shaping up as representative of  a sea change in perceptions of the ANC. Still, I think “All we are saying is give the ANC a chance,” doesn’t resonate like it used to. Instead of representing a clear move from past affiliations, this election points to new alliances of the near future. ANC President Jacob Zuma is considered by many a blank slate in terms of policies and who he might appoint in his cabinet. Similarly unknown are the prospects for opposition politics. Will the DA and COPE join together in an alliance? Would such an alliance include smaller parties?