The lobbing of insults is pretty standard during an election, but South African politicians have gone a step further in the run-up to voting day on April 22, dragging Michael Jackson and garden gnomes into the fray.

The old standards - snakes, dogs and cockroaches - have already been dusted off in the verbal duelling between the ANC and Cope. Before Thabo Mbeki resigned as president in September, the Progressive Youth Alliance were stomping on, burning and chopping up the metaphorical dead snake alluded to by ANC president Jacob Zuma.

When former ANC chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota indicated he would be leaving the party, ANC Women's League president Angie Motshekga said "the dogs are leaving".

Jason Mkhwane, chairperson of the ANC Youth League's Sedibeng branch, said Lekota and others who wanted to "destroy" the organisation were behaving like cockroaches who should be destroyed.

Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has taken a dig at DA leader Helen Zille's Botox treatments, and Cope has offered to send ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema for therapy.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Zweli Mkhize called time-out on name-calling in December, but with elections approaching, his call appears to have gone unheeded. Malema this week called Zille a "colonialist" and an "imperialist". Zille was possibly the first to evoke the long-standing Capetonian insult tradition of referring to genitals, by saying Malema was an inkwenkwe - isiXhosa for an uncircumcised boy. This led Malema to question how she could take the matter below the belt with such authority.

Earlier this week, Malema told DA Youth League leader Khume Ramulifho they were "Helen Zille's garden boys", and said DA deputy leader Joe Seremane just "smiles at the madam" when Zille is around. Ramulifho said Malema would "do no better than a garden gnome" in a debate with the DA youth.

The Freedom Front Plus has called Malema a gift to the opposition, but cautioned that labels like "cockroaches" preceded the murder of at least one million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa laughs it all off. He says he was recently labelled a bantustan leader, but considers it all pre-election "air pollution", believing that to take the bait is to raise the profile of the opponent. - Sapa