Letter from the DM168 editor

Never has a wise vote been more important to the future of South Africa

Never has a wise vote been more important to the future of South Africa
The Mandela shuffle at a party to celebrate an ANC victory after the elections in 1994.(Photo: Paul Weinberg)

After thirty years of democracy, the heroes of freedom have been replaced by the hyenas of stealing

Dear DM168 reader,

Thirty years ago today, almost 20 million of us woke up at the crack of dawn to wait patiently in lengthy queues to vote in our country’s very first democratic election.

Whether in remote rural villages or big, bustling cities, people from all walks of life, every racial, tribal and cultural group and every political persuasion in South Africa converged at voting stations to decide whom they would entrust with the governance of their future.

I was 29 years old then and took leave from my job as a features writer at Tribute magazine to volunteer at the voting station in Bezuidenhout Valley in Johannesburg. I wanted to play a part in this wonderful, momentous end to the horrible years of violence that preceded the election. As a reporter, I had witnessed and written about horrific incidents such as the Boipatong massacre, during which machete- and spear-wielding IFP members brutally murdered 41 people. 

I didn’t want to write about the election, I wanted to be a part of making it happen freely and fairly, not in support of any party but in support of the process of democracy in action.

I worked side by side with other volunteers, ushering old and young to the voting booths, handing out the superlong ballot paper and showing people where to place it in the ballot box. 

The feeling of relief and hope, echoed in the voices of ordinary South Africans, was palpable. My heart was filled with the laughter, the smiles, the willingness to wait for hours on end in the queues to have, finally, a collective say in our future. This was the day apart-hate ended and we no longer were prisoners of that heinous false notion of racial superiority and inferiority, the day all of us became South African. 

Our first voting results

The majority of South Africans, 12 million or 62%, voted for Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress; 20% voted for FW de Klerk’s National Party; 10% voted for the IFP; 2% for the Freedom Front; and 1.73% for the Democratic Party. 

I cannot imagine what a burden of responsibility it must have been to carry the dreams of so many South Africans on your shoulders. Yes, mistakes were made, but we must acknowledge that Mandela and his first Cabinet and the progressive cohort of civil servants fresh from jobs in NGOs, universities and the private sector, or from exile in Europe, the US, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique, were faced with a labyrinthine task.

Working with those civil servants who remained from the apartheid administration, they had to change and fix a system that had favoured a white minority into a government that would serve us all. They had to build single, national government departments out of the apartheid administration and the ghettos of Coloured, Indian and Bantu Affairs and broken Bantustans. 

Building a broken country

Under the Mandela and Thabo Mbeki administrations, the economy grew. And with it developed a black middle class of skilled professionals earning over R22,000 a month, which now, according to a 2023 report by UCT’s Liberty Institute , constitutes 3.4 million people, superseding the white middle class by a million

This black middle class, however, makes up only 7% of South Africa’s black African population. This brings into stark relief the vital importance of the lifeline of social grants, which have been a key priority of the democratic government.  

The inequalities inherited from apartheid were too overwhelming for the first three administrations to solve. Mbeki was seen as arrogant and out of touch. He was an Aids denialist and his quiet diplomacy with Robert Mugabe had no effect in bringing any relief to Zimbabweans suffering human rights abuses and economic collapse.

The ANC eats itself

But the biggest push against Mbeki was from within. A coalition of disenchanted  kicked out Mbeki and ushered in Jacob Zuma, the man who epitomises the ANC’s descent from globally heralded heroes of freedom to hyenas of stealing and stealing.. 

Ironically Mbeki, the man Zuma ousted, was the ANC leader who attracted the greatest percentage of votes for the party, 69.69%, in 2004. The party has faced a steady decline since then. In the Zuma years it declined to 65.9% (2009) and 62.2% (2014), and it has continued its descent under President Cyril Ramaphosa, getting 57.5% in 2019.

Whatever the motivation was for the ANC to swap freedom for a feeding frenzy, Jacob Zuma made it OK. No longer was the ANC the party of moral integrity and human rights; it was the party of patronage, tenders, cash, expensive labels and crass consumption. 

Desperate Measures

The  Zondo Commission revealed to us all how the ANC sold its soul for pieces of silver. Was it too much to work for the betterment of the lives of the poor, easier to ensure a better life for yourself, your friends and family? Probably.

In desperation, the ANC has dragged the 81-year-old Mbeki out to convince voters to stick with the party that has failed them. And the coalition of the wounded and greedy have placed the face of 82-year-old Zuma on the election posters for the breakaway uMkhonto Wesizwe party. The ANC, led by the 71-year-old Ramaphosa, is increasingly losing touch with the aspirations of the young. 

As the party panders to the past and eats itself from the inside out, the EFF, another ANC offshoot, which has managed to speak to young black aspirations, captured 10.8% of voters in 2019, a similar vote to that of the IFP in 1994. The DA has grown from the 1% garnered from its predecessor in 1994 to 20.77% in 2019. This is a similar result to what De Klerk’s National Party got in 1994. 

On 29 May, 27.2 million voters are able to vote. In our cross on the ballot paper lies a choice: a future torn apart by the harbingers of fear, greed and intolerance, or a future based on hope and the hard work of fixing a dysfunctional state, fighting corruption and crime and building an economy that can create decent jobs.

Poll says ANC ship will sink below 50%

The latest Ipsos voter survey,  projects the ANC getting 40.2% of the vote, the DA 21.9%, the EFF 11.5% and the MK party 8.4%.

The MK party, which wants to remove the Constitution that protects your rights and mine, is polled at number four. 

Thirty years after that momentous day in 1994, those in the ANC who value this Constitution and believe in continuous work to end inequality and not in filling the pockets of the political elite are at a serious crossroads. They will need to govern as a coalition. Who do they choose? 

Our next 30 years, dear readers, are going to be in the hands of whoever we vote for on May 29. Choose wisely. 

Let me know who you will vote for and why by writing to me at [email protected]

As today is a public  holiday, DM168  will be sold and delivered on Sunday 28 April. 

Yours in defence of truth,



Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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