South Africa


Writing the 2019 election: Where have all the good women and men gone?

Writing the 2019 election: Where have all the good women and men gone?
Photo: A soccer fan with the colours of the South African flag smiles during her team’s international friendly soccer match against Ghana at Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, August 11, 2010. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko casac

South Africa seems to be at a moment when it is almost impossible to find a good, clean, honest, and trustworthy politician. With the exception of the DA’s Mmusi Maimane, can the public really trust any of the leaders in the ANC and EFF. Would you buy a used car from any one of them?

There was a poster doing the rounds, during the 1960 United States Presidential election adorned with Richard Nixon’s face. A slogan below the picture was simple and effective. “Would you buy a used car from this man?” I’m not sure whether this was the first time the slogan was used, but it summed up almost perfectly the general antipathy towards Nixon at the time. He lost to John F Kennedy.

Whatever people thought about Nixon in 1960, they elected him eight years later. Nixon would run again, in 1968, was elected and served as president until 1974…. And when he did get to the highest office, Nixon would go on to debase the presidency. It would never be the same again after Nixon left office. It is worth stating the following, a somewhat lengthy passage for a more complete sense of the damage Nixon caused to the presidency of the US.

For most of American history, that office conveyed authority, dignity, and some measure of majesty upon its occupant. The great presidents—Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts – came to be viewed not merely as capable executives but as figures of myth: They were heroic, selfless, noble, godlike.… as late as the middle of the last century, Americans were inclined to view even incumbent presidents with reverence. Faith in the presidency may have reached its apogee soon after World War ll. The public generally trusted Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower to be honest and well-intentioned and to put the interests of the nation above their own.”

Nixon’s conduct during the Vietnam war, destroyed his presidency and eroded faith in the office, and none of the post-Vietnam War presidents have managed to fully restore that faith. The most powerful lesson of the Nixon presidency was “that the duty of citizens in a democracy is to be sceptical – not to worship our leaders, who have always been fallible, but to question their decisions, challenge their policies, and hold them accountable for their failures”.

What has all of this to do with South Africa’s general election in May? Well, a lot, if you consider (first) the damage that Jacob Zuma has done to the Presidency, and (second) the increasingly narrow pool of trustworthy candidates among the three main parties, the ANC, the EFF and the DA. That is probably not fair to Mmusi Maimane, as he does seem like a clean-cut politician.

Where have all the good women and men gone?

South Africa seems to be at a moment when it is almost impossible to find a good, clean, honest, and trustworthy politician. With the exception of the DA’s Mmusi Maimane, can the public really trust any of the leaders in the ANC and EFF. Would you buy a used car from any one of them? Let us start with the DA. Whatever you may think of the DA’s policies, their racial make-up, their lack of unambiguously pro-poor policies, the presence of Tony Leon types, and a smattering of reactionaries, Maimane is far and away the most trustworthy of political leaders.

Maimane, should he emerge as the unchallenged national leader of the party, would, arguably, be the “cleanest” of the main candidates. The key is, of course, that South Africans will go to the polls to elect political parties, and not leaders, per se. Because of this, Maimane is encumbered by the presence “white liberals” in his party – which is somewhat unfortunate. The problem is, of course, that Maimane, Julius Malema and Cyril Ramaphosa come with the DA, the EFF and the ANC. Would you buy a used car from Maimane? Well, if it’s between Malema and his bunch of rowdies, Ramaphosa and any number of grunts in pigpens across the country, it would be difficult to ignore the DA leader.

Would you buy a used car from Julius Malema, or his deputy, Floyd Shivambu? Well, let’s go this route. From what we read in the news and on social media, EFF supporters have made up their minds. They will vote for the EFF even if Malema cusses and yells at opponents, calls people names, insults people who disagree with him, threatens to cut the throat of whiteness, has journalists thrown out of press conferences…. They will vote for the EFF even if Shivambu physically attacks journalists, calls them names or starts pogroms for people of Indian heritage. And even if he is found to have benefited from questionable financial dealings in the VBS Scandal. They will vote for the EFF notwithstanding recurrent claims of claims of sexual harassment by the party’s most senior leaders. Like the Pan Africanist Congress in the 1950s, the EFF’s main reason for being is opposition to the ANC. Now add to this the politics of revenge, and it does not matter whether EFF leaders are clean and sober. “Whataboutery” means that there are always outsiders who are easier targets.

Speaking of sexual harassment…. As if the ANC does not (already) have a monopoly, of sorts, over corpulent cadres who would make Mr Creosote look like a starving orphan.

It was reported over the weekend that the ANC’s acting spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, had allegedly drugged and raped a woman. This, while a string of ANC cadres and deployees are being lined up to testify at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry to Inquire Into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector Including Organs of State. At the same time, former premier and North West leader Supra Mahumapelo is reported to be on a collision course with the party’s leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. Now take a pick from any of the Zuma Cabinet and other appointees, and the problem is compounded.

We should probably give any and all of the initiatives that Ramaphosa (as President of South Africa) has put in place to start cleaning up the state, and as leader of the ANC, cleaning up of the ruling party. Already the ANC have started a process of weeding the bad characters from its ranks. What remains a cause for concern is that between internal vetting of candidates, and external inquiries (like the Zondo Commission) will there be any clean candidates left? Would you buy a used car from any of them? What we have not seen (not yet, anyway) is a woman leader at the front of the EFF or ANC election machinery. Here, again, the DA comes out ahead with Phumzile Van Damme, Natasha Mazzone and, of course, Helen Zille, driving the party’s agenda. It’s probably not fair to compare them with Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane or Lindiwe Zulu. For the ANC Naledi Pandor is without peers in the party.

All things considered, though, like Nixon, who debased the US presidency, we will probably look at the Zuma years as the worst that could happen to South African political leadership. Zuma, Mondli Makhanya, the editor of City Press wrote, corrupted the state and the Presidency, and left it almost totally gutted of morality. When seen altogether, it makes us wonder just where all the good women and men have gone. They certainly are not in the official electoral politics of the country. DM


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