Suffused in the warm (after)glow of an election centre, it is easy to be warm and fuzzy, with various political leaders professing undying respect and admiration for each other. Sure, it’s not undying love, but you work with what you have. Yet when I look at the IEC app with all the numbers once again (which I can now recite in my sleep) the fuzzy feeling of being a South African – especially a South African parent – comes rushing back. There is plenty in these figures to an old cynic like me very happy indeed. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
For those who hate the ANC and everything it stands for (and if you don’t believe they exist, take a look at my Twitter timeline or the comments section of any piece on News 24) these results would be cause for despair. They would rage against the Luthuli House machine; the way that despite Nkandla, the Zuma Spy Tapes, the Waterkloof, the corruption, the use of the SABC, the public funds used to advertise for the party by stealth, and the presence of Number One, the party only lost a few percentage points. There was no going under the once-magical figure of sixty percent. It would seem the DA is still just an urban, mostly white party.
And for those who are worried about radical voices, and the impact of these upon our possible future policies, there would be more than enough reason to worry about the presence of the EFF in Parliament. It is true that the National Assembly quite simply won’t be the same.
But look through the numbers properly and you start to see that our democracy is becoming more dynamic. Not vibrant. (That’s a fancy foreign correspondent’s word to say that the people who vote are brown.) What we’re seeing is that more South Africans are willing to change their political choices. As the choices in front of them change, from, say, the ANC, the DA and Cope in 2009, to the ANC, the DA and the EFF in 2014, so they are willing to change their choices.
It is absolutely crucial that the ruling party, no matter who it is, does get punished, however lightly, should it misbehave. That is what has happened here. The ANC has misbehaved. In terms of corruption, Nkandla, incompetence, etc. And it has lost support as a result. If that did not happen, there would be no brake on corruption; it would simply get worse. The fact is that there has been a reaction from the voters to a ruling party that is not living up to their standards. And therefore that party will have to change its behaviour or lose more support.
More importantly, particularly if you look through the Gauteng figures (2009: ANC 64%, DA 22% – 2014: ANC 54%, DA 31%, EFF 10%) you can see that people are becoming more willing to vote on policy and delivery than on identity. Bluntly, more black people are voting for the DA than did in the past, despite its blonde leader. As possibly the most important political dynamic at the moment, the change from racial political identities towards class political identities is clearly continuing.
It’s easy to claim that the ANC wasn’t actually punished enough. But that’s not the point. If it doesn’t change its course now after losing three percentage points, in 2019 it will be driven under 60%, and then be out of power soon after that. So this matters.
And don’t you worry – Luthuli House knows it.
And then there is the EFF. The fact is, for the first time, the radical unemployed, those angry at the establishment and what teenagers would refer to as the “system” now have a voice in formal politics. Someone who thinks like them, talks like them, and, according to Julius Malema, will dress like them in Parliament (complete with red boiler suit), will be engaging in formal debate with, well, Number One.
This is crucially important. One of the factors that leads to the violence we see in our protests could well be the feeling that these views are not ever heard by those in power. Now those in power will have no escape. With a bit of luck, this representation of these views in Parliament could well act as a safety valve in some way.
But the EFF in Parliament also means that for the first time, the ANC is going to be attacked from both the left and the right. Until now, it has only really faced the more rightward DA, and other parties it could swat away because they were so small. The EFF is competing directly for votes with the ANC, and can’t just be ignored easily. As a result the ANC is going to be squeezed slightly when it comes to policy. This might well keep it on the straight and narrow for longer, and prevent anyone with in it considering anything radically leftward. One could also imagine Juju joining the other opposition parties in fighting something like the Protection of State Information Act. A fight like that would gain a certain rhetorical power it doesn’t have at the moment.
And then there’s oversight. Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine an ad hoc Parliamentary committee investigating Nkandla, with Malema, or someone like him, on it. There is no way that would not compete with the Oscar Channel for ratings.
The other reason to be all warm and fuzzy after this election is that South African voters have shown once again that they do not tolerate clowns and chancers. Mamphela Ramphele and Mosiuoa Lekota, I’m looking at you. Ramphele, don’t jump a voting queue again. You can’t greet people as “fellow citizens” and the act like a Queen. Even the Queen wouldn’t do it. Lekota, you’re a good sport for pretending to eat a hat, but enough now.
There is one problem that does still worry me, though. In this election, as in all of them, it was the economy, stupid. And the results of this poll don’t encourage me that we will see real policies that actually unleash the economy and lead to proper economic, job-creating growth. Of course there was no realistic prospect that these elections ever would, but it’s sobering to know that the root cause of the violence in our protests, and the despair and poverty around us, namely the lack of economic growth, hasn’t been addressed directly here, and we are as we were before campaigning started.
All successful democracies have one element in common: the prospect of change at the ballot box. It’s not just about changing the party that is ruling, but in using the power of the ballot box to change the course of the ruling party. To make it govern wisely. These elections have shown to me, once again, that South Africa is a place where political change is possible. Which will keep our politicians accountable.
It’s time to remove the word “fledgling” from our “democracy”. DM
Photo: A women holds up her South African ID book to cast her vote at a polling station in Bekkersdal, Johannesburg, South Africa, 07 May 2014. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK
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