As South Africa gears itself up for its first Covid-era local government polls in October, experts have called on political parties to be innovative by cutting down on millions of rands usually spent on mass election campaigning by embracing available technology.
With parties accustomed to employing traditional tactics – filling up stadiums with supporters, bussing crowds, door-to-door visits and other face-to-face engagements – political analysts Dr Ralph Mathekga and Institute for Global Dialogue senior researcher Sanusha Naidu yesterday called on leaders to “think out of the box”.
Said Mathekga: “These are not going to be ordinary elections seen in the past. The reality is that we are holding elections under an atmosphere dominated by the pandemic, with lockdown restrictions in place.
“Political parties will have to adapt to the new conditions by improvising – also relying on digital media. They can no longer invite people to fill up stadiums and now have to find other ways of reaching out to potential voters.”
Naidu concurred, saying political parties had to be innovative on how they contextualise an electoral campaign effective during the Covid pandemic.
“That puts an end to the usual electoral campaign methodology – launching of election manifestos and holding of Siyanqoba [we win] rallies before large crowds.
Political leaders have to reconfigure their thinking,” she said.
“Big-ticket item campaigning is now out – putting an end to millions wasted on countrywide travelling, hiring of stadiums and on door-to-door. Innovation means thinking out of the box by conceptualising the methodology of campaigning.
“You can still print posters and take up advertising space in newspapers.
“Where you have to be creative is in analysing your target audience, making use of social media like Facebook and Instagram.
But sole reliance on social media does not mean you are necessarily reaching out to the major segment of the population.”
Surveys to determine where people received political news, was “the key driver for political campaign innovation”.
“You can hold townhouse meetings on electronic platforms. The problem is that most people still want physical face-to-face engagement,” said Naidu.
Huge financial savings made during campaigning could be ploughed back to communities as “part of a social contract to uplift the poor”.
Naidu said free and fair elections were not about mass public campaigning.
“The opportunity now exists for parties to put their money where their mouths are, by cutting down,” she said.