Daily Maverick

Captured Audience – brace yourself for the great ritual folly of the election schmooze fest

South Africans watching the daily feed of gross corruption and scandal unspooling live on a nearby screen have been subjected to a form of collective drink spiking. We can hardly move for the meltdown and the sheer weight of political, social and economic debris that has rained down hard and fast in the fallout from evidence offered at various commissions of inquiry.

But brace yourself, dear compatriots, for the burlesque caravans of politicians bearing food parcels, T-shirts, bunting and bullshit, all made more palatable by co-opted musicians and comedians, who are about to rumble across the country as May 2019 approaches.

It is the one occasion in democratic political life when politicians or aspiring politicians understand that we – the people – are not just a helpless and hapless audience, pinned to our seats, numbed by their epic venality, our pockets turned inside out by their opportunism.

While between elections we might be and feel disregarded and abused, let us not forget that our eyelids have been propped eternally open with matchsticks since it began to dawn on us that, should we fall asleep, politicians will loot the lot of it.

On the one flank, citizens have faced a betrayal and full-scale attack by politicians, while on the other we are being squeezed by the bankers, the consultants and the accountants who aided and abetted them.

We are on our own, compatriots.

We are the ham, the tuna mayonnaise, the peanut butter, in the shit sandwich that is contemporary 21st Century politics.

But instead of demanding accountability for those who seek election and to whom we once gifted our votes in the past, we have turned on each other. We do this in real life where we yell, scratch and insult each other. We do it on the mean streets of social media.

While we survey the plundered landscapes of SARS, SAPS, Eskom, SAA, Transnet, VBS, Steinhoff, of at least 53 bankrupt municipalities, while our children drown in pit latrines, while we simply “lose” the mentally ill, while developers capture our cities making them unaffordable – we lash out at what is closest. Another citizen.

The right wing in South Africa is mobilising, worryingly so. The left hardly knows where to effect a new vision (globally too), while the centre in South Africa has turned into a bottomless pit that has gobbled up at least R100-billion of public finds, almost all of it lost to plunder and greed.

Our Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, as well as the vocal DA mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, have both tried to pin this mess on refugees and migrants, reaching for xenophobia as a blunt, crude instrument when they are found wanting.

In Motsoaledi’s case it genuinely appears as if he believes that public hospitals were models of efficiency and delivery before “foreign nationals” came along.

And while the undignified spectacle of palace politics of leadership battles in the big three spill like sewage into the headlines daily, it is ground zero for the rest of us.

There are towns and municipalities – rendered shells by deployees – where citizens have been been left without water, without toilets, without teachers, without nurses, without doctors, without homes, without schools, without food, without jobs.

A litre of petrol costs more in South Africa than the minimum hourly wage. VAT was hiked to make up for the shortfall because SARS could no longer be milked by President Jacob Zuma’s parasites.

Our citizens burn and protest daily because there is no other way to express the deep and wounding frustration of living with a class of ruthless political and economic predators who seem inured to the founding principles of democratic South Africa and the law itself.

At the weekend South Africans conducted several polls on social media hoping to gauge who we might be moved to vote for in 2019. This in the wake of tremendous anxiety that none of the “big three” parties can or should be trusted.

Patricia de Lille rose from the withered husk of the PAC and the ID as well as the ashes of the DA in Cape Town at the weekend to announce she will be launching a new party that will contest the elections in 2019. Her manifesto, wrote one journalist, was “the usual”.

There will be, it is predicted, a proliferation of smaller parties, citizens who wish to challenge the micro aggressive dominance and abuse of the big three. Whether this will weaken their hold over us is yet to be seen. It will be up to us – that’s if someone doesn’t try and fiddle with our election campaigns or results.

It happened so easily in Britain.

I happened to have had the displeasure of dining with two overseas visitors recently, both of whom proudly announced that they had voted for Brexit.

Asked why they had done so they casually replied that it was in order to thwart the growing right-wing threat in Europe and to prevent European sovereignty over the UK.

I kid you not. And these are young, educated people.

And so, it appears it did not strike them as a tragedy that they themselves opted to support a home-grown, British, right-wing nationalist flank.

Elections, writes lapsed Dutch academic Matthijs Van Boksel in his seminal work, The Encyclopaedia of Stupidity, should be about determining the “will of the people”.

But in the end, elections have become a folly where we, the voters, are turned into “asocial idiots” who participate in a charade.

The citizen is reduced to an element of a purely numerical set. In short, at the moment the people actually hold power, they cease to exist as a unit.”

Democracy, writes Van Boksel, means government by the people for the people.

But what is a people if not a collection of subjects? The people cannot be ruler and subject at the same time. Thus the people themselves stand in the way of becoming a people. That is the folly of democracy.”

Let us try not to disintegrate into a collection of “asocial idiots” while the politicians and political parties laugh all the way with and to the banks in 2019.

It was Plato who warned that as political leaders begin to feel the threat and the heat of voters they will seek to distract us, throw sand in our eyes, start wars and engender hostilities so that, in the ensuing chaos, they may continue to feed on and take what rightfully belongs to you, the citizen.

It was Plato who predicted that democracy would lead to nations being governed by “bullies and brutes”, but it was Winston Churchill who felt “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

This time around we know what we are dealing with.

It is not going to be easy for politicians or candidates who are hoping to seduce us leading up to May 2019.

Before that, there must be accountability, not just redeployment, but charges, trials and convictions for those who have betrayed the trust and the promise of a generation who fought and died for this thing called Freedom.

We may be battle weary, we may be shell-shocked, but we are not powerless. DM

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