Defend Truth


Elections 2019: Are opposition parties cutting off our nose to spite our face?


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Elections are a sacred right, don’t you agree? Democracy must never be taken for granted, especially not our infant South African democracy. Many have fought and died for the realisation of this democracy and it is the duty of all to defend it and guard it with our lives, if needs be.

Now, I’m not privy to what the strategy is or why some opposition parties take issue with our Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and question their every move, amplifying every little administrative issue as if to imply wrongdoing on their part. Notwithstanding the tender mishap of the former IEC head which resulted in her resignation and the Tlokwe and Abaqulusi by-elections debacle, which was resolved by our courts, the opposition’s list of moans against the IEC is numerous.

  1. New IEC commissioners lack experience;

  2. Some IEC staff members are not apolitical;

  3. Commissioners and the head of the IEC lack integrity;

  4. There is poor distribution of election materials about how and where to register and vote (as if this is deliberate);

  5. The IEC funding formula for campaigning is wrong;

  6. Access to broadcast airtime;

  7. Blocking access to campaign venues;

  8. The enforcement of no-go areas;

  9. Political violence, intolerance and hate speech;

  10. Negative campaigning.

Systematically delegitimising the IEC is what is under way, in my opinion.

Let us first remove the last five issues on the list which are outside the IEC’s remit and control. The remit of the IEC is made clear in Electoral Act 73 of 1998.

I get that we need an IEC that is sufficiently robust and one that obviously complies with the rules that govern it. We do, however, know that there are new commissioners who do not necessarily have all the required experience, like some in the past. But no one expected the commissioners of old to remain the same forever. We can only reasonably expect that all will abide by the rules governing the elections and adhere to the Electoral Act stipulations.

As for staff members of the IEC that are not apolitical and that have some or other political affiliation, well for the IEC to optimally execute its legal mandate it requires about 200,000 staff countrywide. To think that they can all be apolitical is ludicrous. Again, as long as the Electoral Act, which is very clear about this aspect, is followed then I see no problem with this societal reality. If you apply to work for the IEC over this crucial period and comply with all requirements, there’s no problem as far as I’m concerned. Mechanisms governing the IEC have been agreed upon long ago and for opposition parties to want to question these now is rather disingenuous, to say the least.

Crying wolf about the IEC jeopardises our democracy.

It is good to know that most complaints received have been satisfactorily resolved by the IEC to date. But EFF politics on this matter are dangerous, destabilising and disruptive. This is cause for concern.

Indira Gandhi once remarked: “Winning or losing of the election is less important than strengthening the country.” Best I think we all remember this when next we amplify unnecessary administrative matters for the IEC, as if to cast doubt on our elections and hence our democracy.

Constantly questioning the integrity of some of the commissioners and indeed the head of the IEC leaves a bitter taste in one’s mouth. It is such distasteful politics. Cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Remember, crying wolf about the IEC jeopardises our democracy.

Then there is the voter registration issue. I do hope that this will not become a serious noose around the country’s neck and result in our elections having to be postponed indefinitely.

The consequences of undermining our IEC are rather apparent as far as I’m concerned: We can expect increases in campaign disruptions; political violence, intolerance and hate speech; and “no-go areas” (especially in KZN) with the run-up to this election.

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa asserts that South Africa has a sound legal and regulatory process governing elections. Robust mechanisms of oversight and accountability are built into the process, with well-established conflict resolution mechanisms.

These include:

  • The electoral court (this is a court and the highest authority on matters relating to elections and was constituted to facilitate the rapid resolution of stakeholder disputes);

  • The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC);

  • A electoral code of conduct aimed at promoting conditions that are conducive to free and fair elections;

  • The Electoral Management Body relations with stakeholders through party liaison committees which enhance transparency and assist in diffusing conflict; and

  • Party and candidate agents play a critical role in ensuring that elections are properly conducted.

The oversight, transparency and accountability mechanisms within both the law and the consequent regulatory frameworks appear to be sufficiently robust to ensure the credible management and administration of the elections.

Numerous perception surveys and post-election experience surveys indicate that the IEC remains a credible organisation. It also enjoys substantial international recognition and status. This is evident with how few international election observers now come to our shores to observe whether our elections are free and fair.

Now, some may argue that this upcoming election is a proxy for the land question (land expropriation without compensation), and hence the populism of the ANC on this matter.

Unfortunately they would be wrong.

This upcoming election is about identity politics: who is a real South African? In other words, the land question is a proxy for who is a true South African. We have seen it now through the EFF’s rhetoric about ‘Indians must go back to India’. Soon they will have something to say about “so-called” coloureds, just you wait. I don’t have to remind you of the DA and its struggle with the race question both inside the party itself and the country as a whole. It constantly reminds us of how good colonialism was to us blacks and how we should be grateful to the white European man.

Blacks feel disenfranchised economically and have been since forever, but this sentiment has intensified after 1994 and the political compromise that was entered into between the ANC government and the economic elite (whites) in SA is increasingly viewed as not having benefited blacks.

Hence, this election will be about blacks feeling that they must liberate themselves from this economic bondage so easily agreed to by the liberation movements. Hence as black people we must all vote to take back what is rightfully ours. We must be seen to take it without compensation, like they (whites) took it from us. We must restore our dignity, we must own our land again.

This is the race politics I’m referring to, the identity politics at its best. Very worrying if you ask me. Not the rightful return of land that was stolen, but the reasons underpinning such rightful claim. But more on this matter another time perhaps.

It was Barack Obama that said:

In the end, that’s what this election is about: Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope?”

I dare say, the very same holds true for our very own 2019 general elections. Will it be about cynicism or hope?

I say again, crying wolf about the IEC jeopardises our democracy.

No election talk will of course be complete without the customary speculation about outcomes. So, here are mine.

The ANC will increase its majority from 62%, to the chagrin of many. The EFF will go up to 8% only, even with their drive for young people to register over this period. The DA will stagnate at 25% with some of its traditional voters voting for the Freedom Front Plus, I suspect.

In the 2016 local government elections the EFF won only one ward in Gauteng, only one. And that tells me that it benefits more from a proportional representative system. The DA has lost the plot: the three metros they have governed thus far since 2016 have been, at best, dismal.

Athol Trollip tries desperately to cling to power in Port Elizabeth and has entered into alliances with the very same corrupt and unethical people they detest elsewhere in the body politic. Solly Msimanga in Tshwane has had a string of controversies, one after the other. He has had to fight fires about appointments of people lying about their qualifications and so much more. And this among all the DA talk of meritocracy and being appointed with skills and qualifications.

Then there is our very own “black-like-me-mayor” Herman Mashaba, who does not want to be referred to as black, by the way. He has systematically ruined the City of Johannesburg, running out of money and into debt when in fact he inherited a city with a forward cash book in a very healthy state.

In the Western Cape the DA is in for a nasty surprise as far as I’m concerned. Yes, traditional “coloured” voters still have challenges voting for the ANC but on the ground they are beginning to also say: “Don’t tell me about the DA, they too are doing nothing for us.” And with the Aunty Pat matter, the DA has equally not endeared itself to the majority of voters in that province. Time will tell.

But one thing I can say with certainty: crying wolf about the IEC jeopardises our democracy. It’s cutting our nose to spite our face.

Let’s defend our democracy and let’s protect and ensure the integrity of this, our IEC. DM


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