The outcomes of our Local Government Elections are clear except perhaps to the African National Congress. The 2016 results are the worst yet in the ANC’s history of contesting elections in South Africa with 54% of the vote compared to the 62% of 10 years ago under Thabo Mbeki.
Political parties will now be forced to sit around the same table and cobble together plans and policies that accommodate wide-ranging perspectives and political ideologies. Political parties may be able to sit around the same table to agree on the appointment of mayors and speakers this week but in the coming weeks the more challenging part will be about how they are collectively able to shape policy and drive the delivery of basic services.
Mmusi Maimane of the Democratic Alliance and Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters may have benefited most from the recent election results. However, these elections should not simply be about the ANC’s decline and the uptick of the DA and EFF. It would be easy to get caught up in and be consumed by South Africa’s party politics, especially since cities such as Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and possibly Rustenburg will require the need for coalition politics.
A decade ago, a seven-party coalition agreement resulted in the swearing in of Helen Zille as Mayor of Cape Town and the first step in the DA demonstrating its ability to govern. Cape Town (and the Western Cape) has gone on to become the demonstrable example to South Africa of what is possible where the DA governs and is elected into office.
We would be foolish to believe that the next decade will simply be about the ANC and its demise. There will of course be talk of the rise of the new political formation – the so-called realignment of South Africa’s politics, which feeds into the narrative that the governing party is in decline. Of course, there will be voters to be won over and convinced that the alternative voice would be better. South Africans in this election have resolved that they are willing to take the risk.
However, the next decade cannot be defined simply by the demise of the ANC and the rise of opposition politics. The past decade has seen too much lost. Our innocence, optimism and promise have been degraded, walked on and consistently circumvented in order to serve the needs and interests of a few well-connected individuals.
The decline in the ANC’s support is a telling sign of the frustration South Africans are feeling but more worryingly they are also deciding not to participate in elections and opting not to register to vote. South Africans are not simply concerned with the decline of the moral centre but about the inability of our country to address fundamental and critical issues.
We have failed over the past decade to engage meaningfully with the question of a living wage and rising inequality, the need for meaningful land redistribution, a better mechanism to realise black economic empowerment, the desperate need to improve our basic education system as well as our inability and failure to deal with rape and gender-based violence. Too much time has been lost.
With this background in mind, it is only fitting that four young women would use their own agency to remember Khwezi a decade later. We would be confronted with this memory and see and hear their forced removal by the security and ministerial apparatus, which is loyal to Zuma. Ten years later, it may be easy for some to forget the words of Khwezi saying,
“I have been raped earlier by comrades. No one dares to come out into the open about that. That is why nothing is ever done about it.”
It seems that the brutalisation of South Africans by a system of abuse is easy to forget. Four years on we still mourn for the massacre that took place in Marikana. Yet, justice remains elusive for the survivors and families of those who were brutally taken in Marikana. The plight of Khwezi and the tens of thousands who are brutalised, silenced and raped each year also goes unanswered.
South Africans are still forced out of their homes by the need for development and progress. Their plight also goes unanswered. The plight of young South Africans struggling to articulate their vision for this country is ignored.
The fight for South Africans is not simply about removing Zuma (and his ilk) from office but rather about confronting the true cost and price that far too many are required to carry today. We must never forget Marikana, Khwezi, District Six and the injustices that are meted out daily by an uncaring and brutal system. Simply changing the office-bearer from one political party to another will never truly fix that system.
Some would suggest that this marks the second coming, as captured in WB Yeats’s poem, though I suppose if we are to believe Jacob Zuma, and trust him, then the second coming has in fact already arrived in Nelson Mandela Bay.
What is obvious though is that we cannot afford to waste the next 10 years trapped in a factional skirmish driven by the party-political agenda. We cannot simply afford only to have competition at the polls. Instead we need real solutions to confront the triple threat of poverty, unemployment and inequality. South Africans must dig deep and confront the inefficiencies in our democracy. In order to confront the national decline, South Africans will need to do much more than to change their vote at the ballot box. DM