These elections afford South Africans the unique opportunity to elect individuals who represent that promise. We have the ability to assess, very carefully and critically, who among us is able to serve. We must not fail.
We have seen discussions on service delivery, better governance, bicycle lanes, public transport, sanitation as well as different policy approaches to how our municipalities, towns and cities should be governed. However, this is not a narrative very different from the national election cycle and we are poorer because we have not elevated the conversation.
Ideas and rhetoric have an important role to play in our politics but big, innovative and disruptive ideas do too, as much as plans that can be implemented. We have not talked enough about spatial planning and affordable housing. I am still left wondering how our political parties will address these issues. I have no real sense how spatial planning will be realigned or how opportunities will be created and enabled in order to move our communities forward.
However, the last week of elections always seems to veer off script. The carefully planned strategies are undone by what is often the ridiculous. Election campaigns are an expensive business. These elections have apparently cost R1-billion for the ANC and the secrecy around party political funding remains an issue that has no end in sight.
This last week would see Marius Fransman on the ANC campaign trail with Jacob Zuma in the Western Cape. It defies logic that a man accused of sexually assaulting a 21-year-old woman and of abusing his office or position in order to encourage compliance and silence would be allowed on the campaign trail. Justice still eludes Louisa Wynand yet Fransman believes he must resume his duties as if nothing had happened. Fransman is now involved in a court battle in the Western Cape High Court.
It would not stop there as Mr Zuma would say that the Democratic Alliance are snakes and that South Africans should not trust them. Mr Zuma was quoted as saying that “they have the same hatred. They don’t believe black people can lead”. The introduction of race in this way is always a useful and emotive tool in the arsenal of the party-political machine. Probably the reason why Zuma will continue to call the DA snakes and the DA will send e-mails to those in the Western Cape, encouraging them to keep the ANC out.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Mmusi Maimane and Athol Trollip unveiled, very proudly it would seem, their final election poster, which implies that the DA is the only party that can realise or honour “Madiba’s Dream”. The ANC, with all its flaws and imperfections, cannot simply be divorced from Mandela and Mandela cannot simply be extracted from his affiliation and involvement with the ANC. Simply, Mandela does not need to be dragged into the muck of party politics. Let the man rest in peace.
Of greater concern is the notion that Mandela alone represents our transition into democracy. If we are to accept that narrative then we would have to forget that Mandela, with many other leaders from across the spectrum, worked with the people of South Africa in order to transition South Africa into this constitutional democracy. This was not the dream of one man. Mandela may be the symbol of that transition but it would be foolish for us to assign all responsibility to him by pretending he alone was the midwife for this transition.
It would seem that the ridiculous is not just reserved for politicians. The return of #CEOSleepOut (Disclaimer: I wrote about this last year) demonstrates how lacklustre some of our collective efforts are and how superficial it can be. How is it that titans of industry are able to rest on the Nelson Mandela Bridge overnight to “raise” awareness about poverty yet are unwilling to address the structural realities? We are somehow able to raise R500,000 for Ashleigh Schultz yet South Africans have not dug as deep to ensure Eddie Ndopu, an amazing activist and friend, is able to go to Oxford as the first disabled African student to be accepted to the Blavatnik School of Government. How is it that South Africans can raise so much money for Ashleigh yet not for Eddie? We cannot feel reconciled and accepting of a dream when issues of poverty, unemployment, inequality and the structural realities are not prioritised and tackled.
We need a far more meaningful vision for our country. A vision and commitment that is willing to tackle the triple threat of poverty, unemployment and inequality while addressing the structural inequalities and the structural racism and prejudice. That vision for South Africa is possible. We are not a country driven by ridiculous antics. We are not shaped by the doublespeak of fire pools. We do not tolerate the censoring of our news. We can, as we always have, shape a vision far more meaningful. In order to do so we will need to be far more disruptive, engaged and willing to cause the good kind of trouble.
There is reassurance in all of this though when I look at the vibrations of young South Africans that are innovative, willing to ask the difficult questions, disruptive, questioning and mostly committed to highlighting these challenges and finding solutions. Next week, I will return to my local voting station not with the enthusiasm and hope that my family had when they first voted in 1994 but rather holding on to the belief that the best vision of South Africa is not simply reflected in one man or woman but through our collective efforts. DM