The past few weeks have highlighted the flaws and inefficiencies of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) as it has haphazardly tried to hold a by-election in Tlokwe, North West. All of that was brought to a grinding halt when the Electoral Court ordered the IEC to postpone the by-elections for six weeks.
The running of free and fair elections is important for any democracy; however, if we want to solve South Africa’s problems we must fix the broken system by confronting the tendency of money to drive our politics.
Those in the system pretend that we can fix this broken system by encouraging citizens to participate in larger numbers through the ballot box or in the various participation processes or to encourage citizens to speak directly to their elected officials. However, those measures will not address the root cause that power and money has corrupted our institutions.
We cannot pretend that our democratic institutions are independent or well-functioning as the rot and state capture has crippled some of them. Citizens, including business and religious organisations, must work with the IEC to focus our collective energies on working with civil society groups such as My Vote Counts to drive a comprehensive civic education programme while regulating money in our politics.
The capture of our democratic and state institutions by those willing to circumvent our legal system is on the rise and we will continue to see people such as the Guptas operate within this space. We can’t rely on a few good men and women to save our democracy but rather what we need is to confront a system that allows money to flow without any transparency or regulation. If we fail to do so we will be trapped in a vicious cycle.
In that broken system, people like Truman Prince, Mayor of Beaufort West, will corrupt the system by conflating the state and the party in order to secure tenders for people and companies that are sympathetic to and have a relationship with a particular political party.
However, we are burdened by party-political machinery that allows these corrupt and unnecessary practices. The limited pool of public funding for parties is in the region of R100-million annually, as regulated by law, and is proportionally shared by the various political parties. What should concern all South Africans is that there is also “dirty money”, with at least R1-billion circulating, which is allowed to seep into our party-political system and in turn that buys access, tenders, influence and undermines the rule of law.
South Africans must work together so that the convening principles in our society are aligned to our constitutional values. If we are able to do so, we will begin to root out the corrupt tendencies of people such as Truman Prince or the proxy wars of Jacob Zuma that jeopardise our democracy. It’s important that South Africans begin to address a broader conversation of holding people such as Chris Roberts, Velaphi Khumalo, Marius Fransman and Dianne Kohler-Barnard accountable.
The electoral system that allows party bosses, whether they operate as the Central Command or the National Executive Committee or the Federal Executive, to hold their own accountable is no longer feasible. We cannot trust them to serve the interests of South Africans. We must work together in order to realign and refocus the system. The likes of the Guptas, Truman Prince, Penny Sparrow or Velaphi Khumalo highlight important issues but they cannot alone determine how we shape the conversation.
Many of us continue to hope that our Parliament will introduce legislation that will address the threat of allowing money to dominate our politics. We will need to remind Parliament of its duty. Our system is broken and creates an environment where citizens are unsure of their elected representatives’ motives, are perplexed that the President of the Republic is captured by a Saxonwold-based family, and that people such as Truman Prince are allowed to remain in office despite the egregious nature of their conduct.
There is an opportunity for South Africans to have a broader conversation about addressing the structural issues that have allowed the bizarre and dysfunction to play out. The fight to cleanse our politics cannot simply be fought for by young South Africans who grow impatient and frustrated with the political elite. It will require South Africans to mobilise across race, age, religion and gender in order to come up with solutions that root out the damaging consequences of allowing money, and its corrupt peddlers, to flow unfiltered and unchecked through our society. DM