Maverick Citizen


Crystal ball — weighing up threats, opportunities that face SA in critical 2024 elections

Crystal ball — weighing up threats, opportunities that face SA in critical 2024 elections
Illustrative image: (Photos: Lihlumelo Toyana | Supplied | Alet Pretorius)

For more than a year South Africans have lived in anticipation of the 2024 election and the possibility of positive change of government that it presents. As rolling blackouts worsened, as hunger escalated, as corruption continued, 2024 seemed like a godsend, democracy’s get-out-of-jail-free card — if we played it properly.

Well, 2024 is now well upon us. Indeed after the official election proclamation by President Rampahosa, the countdown to Friday 29 May is ticking inexorably. However, just as we expect our cricket team to choke in the final stages of world sporting events, there is a danger that honest and good South Africans are about to choke on democracy — at enormous cost.

From a cursory survey of political party campaigns and the manifestos launched so far at this point, it appears as if political forces tarnished by corruption and State Capture have done more to get ready for 2024, than the forces of participatory democracy, social justice and constitutionalism. With each passing day, 2024 therefore begins to look more threatening than opportune.

In a recent article in the Mail and Guardian (Read: South Africa’s 2024 political reality is bleak – The Mail & Guardian), Imraan Buccus sketched out various scenarios. He warned:

“If the ANC does get below 50% there is a serious danger that it could ally itself with the EFF and MK party faction. This would send the economy into freefall, escalate kleptocratic politics beyond the levels of the Gupta years, radically worsen state repression and plunge the country in a crisis that could take decades to resolve.”

These two sentences came midway through Buccus’ article and are easy to pass over. However, they identify a “serious danger” that deserves further examination.

Still our time to eat

At this stage, almost all the polls suggest that the ANC is in serious decline and may not win a majority nationally or in key provinces and metros of Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. However, most leaders of the ANC do not want to retire gracefully from the feeding trough. They will therefore only be able to continue their rule through coalitions.

In this context, a scenario that should be seriously considered looks like this: After elections, the leadership of a weakened ANC removes a weakened Ramaphosa, whose gravitas (despite serial failures of indecision) has served its purpose of preventing the ANC from suffering an even more serious electoral defeat. If the ANC leadership has no need to worry about their electoral undesirability for another five years, Ramaphosa is no longer needed.

Alternatively, a Ramaphosa who shows signs of already having lost the will to govern and fight may resign as President of the ANC.

Into his shoes would step the faction of corruption-linked kleptocrats, led by the likes of Deputy President Paul Mashatile and Gauteng Premier, Panyaza Lesufi. As investigative journalism has revealed (MASHATILE UNMASKED | The secret luxury life and state capture links of a president-in-waiting) these men like power and its profits.

Lesufi, for example, in establishing quasi-paramilitary bodies like the AmaPanyaza has shown himself to be no friend of the Constitution or the rule of law when it’s inconvenient to their ambitions.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Amapanyaza: Gauteng premier launches extraordinary attack on minister of police

Both these politicians have built their power in South Africa’s richest Province for looting, which they have done nothing to halt.

It also seems probable that a Cabinet that we know has few men and women of principle and little expertise, stuffed with people who we know are mostly in it for themselves, would quickly realign behind a new populist leadership.

Buccus sketches out his view of what this scenario would mean for South Africa. But in doing so one thing he does not mention is its consequences for democracy and the Constitution. In a worst-case scenario, it could mean that 2024 is possibly the last democratic election as we know it. Mashatile, Lesufi and Malema see participatory democracy as a “Western ideological construct” and subscribe to the Sino-Russian school of managed elections, demonstrated locally in countries like Zimbabwe and Mozambique, whose rigged and violent elections they decline to condemn.

Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey and wannabe dictator, once put it this way: “Democracy is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination. And then you step off,” (quoted in Gideon Rachman, Age of the Strongman, 2016). It’s plausible that is what the EFF and parts of the ANC would like to do. And will do, if the electorate buys their lies and bribes and gives them the chance.

Reinforcing this fear is the fact that the years 2024 to 2029 are going to be rough. Poly-crises will accentuate a global trend towards authoritarian government: a perfect storm of global heating, worldwide wars, and AI-induced disruptions are just some of the factors that will challenge democratic governance. There are already trends towards greater securitisation of the state, notably the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill, presently before Parliament which Jane Duncan, Director of Intelwatch, has described as a threat to democracy.

As we saw with Covid-19, in times of fear and uncertainty force can quickly replace the rule of law.

Is it too late?

Buccus calls this “a bleak situation and one that reflects … badly on society and its organisations.”

In particular, he regrets the absence of a credible socialist party of the left.

However, at this moment — faced with the threats sketched out above — I would argue that a political party or coalition of parties genuinely committed to shoring up social democracy, to a real programme of urgent social reform and attacking poverty and to stabilising the state and rebuilding its capability and capacity is what society most needs now; and that’s every democrat’s business.

The problem is that instead of believing a party that genuinely represents their interests is possible, millions of people have disengaged from democracy. According to the IEC, the final voter’s roll is made up of 27,357,729 people — meaning about 13 million people have not registered. In other words, there are more votes-with-your-feet than any political party will win on May 29th.

Others — particularly in organised civil society — are standing on the sidelines pontificating about the absence of alternatives, rather than risking political correctness and trying to build alternatives as if their lives depend on it — because they do. There is not a single human rights and social justice issue that will not be affected by the outcome of this election. Why wait for society to further disintegrate if you can try and take action to make it better?

Read more in Daily Maverick: Hope is a verb, so do what you can to rise to a new vision for all in 2024

There are alternatives, none perfect or ready-made, none of them found in a single party, but all far better than countenancing a drift towards authoritarianism.

For example, Change Starts Now (CSN), before its early demise, published a Change Charter: A Manifesto of Hope that proposes a temporary three-year wealth tax and an urgent and feasible plan to tackle poverty, hunger and create jobs. CSN may not be contesting these elections, but the ideas in the Change Charter are there to be carried forward.

Rise Mzansi is successfully reaching out to young people and nominating them as candidates for national and provincial parliaments.

Even the Democratic Alliance has within its ranks city and provincial leaders with real vision and proven commitment to a more equal society.

All of these are far better options than giving power back to kleptocrats and populists by default.

Make a choice!

This is not an election where citizens can afford to be bystanders. Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of the country. We should all be mobilising voters, engaging in conversations, persuading, inspiring and building solidarity across our communities.

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has a chapter titled ‘Voting can be a movement’ in her 2021 book The Purpose of Power. Reflecting back on Trump’s victory in 2016 she writes “I can certainly understand why our communities are sick and tired of politics as it is. However, to me, building our movements only outside existing structures gets us no closer to where we need to go. Politics is a place where power operates …”

“We have a deep and reasonable distrust of government, and yet we want and need government to do more to play its designated role. We don’t like politicians, and yet it is politicians who represent us and make decisions on our behalf. We don’t like how power operates and so we shun power, but we need power in order to transform it.”

For these are sixty million other reasons the ‘hard work of democracy’ — in particular persuading others to get involved with it and vote for a vision of change, social justice and democracy, and not to sell their future again for populist promises, food parcels and a T-shirt — is what we now face.

If we don’t do it now we may end up facing the hard work of overcoming authoritarianism and state failure. DM

Mark Heywood is a social justice activist and former Editor of Maverick Citizen, a section of Daily Maverick. Heywood joined the Change Starts Now movement last year and his last day with Daily Maverick was 14 December 2023. He is the former Executive Director of SECTION27 and has been a human rights activist most of his life.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • District Six says:

    Powerful writing, Mark. Yes, we need people’s power, not the stuff of populists. It seems to me, there is a dearth of encouraging people not only to vote but to take an active part in elections and democracy by volunteering in polling stations. Democracy takes more than voting. It also means showing up in the running of democracy. The IEC needs active citizens to run polling stations. Citizens need to become involved in the actual polling station operations. For example, the SACC is currently putting an Observer Mission plan together.

  • Gretha Erasmus says:

    Well said.

  • Casey Ryder says:

    Mark Haywood begrudgingly giving some credit to the DA. How things have changed! (Nice piece, however).

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