God, Zille

Do we really give a toss what any politician is up to on Twitter or Facebook?

Read time 3min 50sec

Far be it for me to take the Mickey out of anyone in the style and coolness stakes. But the latest pre-election e-mail missive from the Democratic Alliance (DA) left me feeling like the late, great Spike Milligan said he did when playing a B-sharp on his trumpet - “You couldn't slide a credit card between the cheeks of my ass,” or words to that effect.

Confronted with a photo of the world's best mayor sporting a funky hair-do, shirt and figure-hugging waistcoat, I was instantly whisked back to my teens and those formative years spending large amounts of time wanting to disappear because my old man took to the dance-floor at the youth club disco.

“Hey kids, don't be square, join Helen over on groovy Facebook!” the e-mail screamed at me. Okay, that wasn't quite the wording, but the message was clear. Technologically speaking, Helen Zille is with it. She even has a Twitter account.

Many positive things emerged from Barack Obama's rise to the most powerful position in the world, but scads of politicians thinking that a page on Facebook and a Twatter, sorry, Twitter account will make them hip is not one of them. Neither is SMSing people ad nauseam, or phoning them to ask if they have your vote just as you're about to cook supper.

Don't get me wrong - generally speaking, I think Zille rocks, as does Facebook and all those other Web 2.0 apps. And while it is true that Obama's handlers used technology to mobilise the vote and raise unprecedented small sums of money from large numbers of people, those seeking to emulate him should consider this: Obama was cool already.

Thanks, but no thanks

I sort of admire the DA's effort to mobilise an electoral record with the needle permanently stuck on “whinge”, but am not entirely sure how following Helen on Twitter is really going to achieve that.

Maybe they need to take a leaf out of Julius Malema's* colouring book and cotton on to a simple reality - technology can (and does) get your name out there, but ultimately you have to back it all up with some substance if you want to draw people to you.

Having a zillion friends on Facebook when everyone else does too really doesn't make you groovy; nor does it necessarily mean that your message will bring you converts.

Having a zillion friends on Facebook when everyone else does too really doesn't make you groovy.

Pamela Weaver, contributor, ITWeb

The only way the DA is really going to expand its voter base is on the ground, where most of the non-Internet-connected voters are. Rounding up a bunch of people who are probably already in your fold is fun, but it's unlikely to achieve what Obama did.

It's only fair to point out that none of the other political parties is looking exactly swinging on the online front either, but maybe that's because they know where most of the votes in this country are.

According to Jacob Zuma's Facebook page, he has “no recent activity” - pearls of joy, no doubt, to those who like to follow their politicians online, but thousands of people in town halls and community centres around SA will be able to offer a different picture of the big man.

Left powerless

Obama's zeitgeist was a different one - with the DA calling on people to “contribute to change” echoing rather too closely Obama's simple “change” mantra, it's hard not to be cynical about its jump onto the social networking bandwagon too. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but technology can't create an aura in itself.

Obama reached out to millions of disillusioned non-voters and got them on board using a vehicle that is almost as prevalent (and, indeed, cheap) as water. In America.

The millions of South Africans without even the most basic amenities in what they must call home are really, genuinely unlikely to give a toss what any politician is up to on Twitter - they've got bigger things to worry about.

Unfortunately for the DA, if it wants change, those are the voters it needs to sign on, and technology without electricity just doesn't cut the mustard.

*352 buddies.

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