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Opinionista

2019 Elections: The burden of choice for South Africans is a heavy one

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Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

There is an opportunity for South Africans to push beyond the difficult issue of choosing between our political parties, and instead to shape the message that South Africans give to their political parties.

In just over two months, South Africans will be compelled to make a particular choice in South Africa’s national and provincial elections. The South African party-political environment (which is in need of urgent electoral reform) does not provide South Africans with many options, but rather reminds us of the exclusionary nature and quagmire that we find ourselves in.

The narrative in South Africa may have shifted from the past lost decade but those years continue to haunt the process of renewal and realignment that is so desperately needed across South Africa. The consequences of the State Capture project and Shadow State have not simply been resolved because the power of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, and the State Capture-apparatchiks, has diminished within government structures.

We have seen this fightback mounted in a series of manoeuvres being made by the Zuma faction, as well as certain questionable action by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) against witnesses at the State Capture commission (possibly designed to make potential witnesses think twice before giving testimony at the commission), as well as the questionable load shedding by Eskom at a very curious time.

The fight-back by those very State Capture-apparatchiks continues with wilful and intentional conduct to sabotage the clean-up efforts. Yet, many South Africans are working very hard to remedy the consequences of the lost decade by holding those accountable and by fixing the shattered institutions and structures handed over by the previous administration.

During the next two months, South Africans will have to exercise an important right and responsibility by making sure the political parties, and their internal machinery, receive a very clear message and mandate for governing in the interest of the people. South Africans must be vigilant about the type of theatrics and machinery that is currently underway in the governing party of South Africa – we must guard against the internal battles of the African National Congress as they have an impact on the direction of South Africa.

The threat from the internal battles of the ANC is not unique but has played out between the coalition partners of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality as well as in the inner workings of the Democratic Alliance that has played out in the City of Cape Town, and to a lesser extent within the Western Cape.

Residents of both Johannesburg and Tshwane have also witnessed the consequences of the fractious nature of coalition politics, as well as the need to protect the pact instead of serving the people. We cannot simply pretend that the internal workings of our political parties do not matter to the state of our country (our cities, our towns, and provinces). The consequences of those fractures, factions and battles have a direct ability of government to deliver and to account properly to the people.

Each day, South Africans encounter the consequences and outcomes of the crippling consequences of looting and corruption. It is encountered when South Africans seek to access government and social services, it is encountered when they attempt to travel using any form of public transport, it is felt in the looming threat of the Eskom load shedding, and particularly realised when South Africans look at the brazen inability of public servants to account.

On the face of it, the electioneering in the next two months will focus on the needs of ordinary South Africans, but the truth is that the political party machinery will focus on the optics, positioning the issues, and mounting a show of force in order to convince South Africans that they are the best option available on 8 May.

South Africans are not burdened with an easy choice as they must struggle with a narrative of renewal by the African National Congress under President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, the somewhat disjointed messaging of the Democratic Alliance, the convenient and disingenuous antics of the Economic Freedom Fighters, and the ongoing pressure and noise by a number of (old and new) political formations that compete against the three major political parties.

The elections this year cannot be divorced from the past 25 years, and particularly the past decade of leadership that has degraded and debased governance and service, and South Africans must keep this context and history front of mind when exercising their democratic right to vote.

South Africans must over the next two months look very carefully not only at the positions and policies of the political parties, but must demand direct answers to the questions that speak to the needs of ordinary South Africans.

It will be critical to push political functionaries, political parties and politicians during the next two months on wide-ranging issues from gangsterism, crime, delivery of public services, public transport, higher education, basic education, social housing, land, growing the economy, confronting inequality, addressing unemployment as well as the ability of government to secure inclusive participation by the people in the business of government.

These are just a few of the critical issues that must shape the next two months of electioneering – but beyond the issues of ordinary South Africans, we must continue to seek accountability and consequences for the malfeasance, corruption and State Capture. We must continue to vigilantly demand more from our political parties so that South Africans fully understand the work that these political parties wish to secure a mandate for.

The nature of our politics in part have been debased by the past lost decade, which includes the haunting consequences of the Marikana massacre, the Life Esidimeni scandal, the death of far too many young children in pit latrines or the failing services that are rendered by our government to South Africans in places like Keimoes Hospital.

The form of our politics is often focused simply on demonstrating force and numbers, issuing a carefully scripted political message, managing the optics and the message. However, this election cycle has an opportunity to be different if we demand it. There is an opportunity for South Africans to push beyond the difficult choice of choosing our political parties, and instead to shape the message that South Africans give to their political parties.

We have seen a different approach to the usual electioneering when President Ramaphosa on Wednesday this week, as part of his efforts in campaigning for the ANC in the Western Cape, invited a number of different stakeholders to the Cape Town City Hall where Ramaphosa fielded at least 20 questions for almost 90 minutes — the questions and responses were unscripted — and thereafter proceeded to spend almost 60 minutes responding to each of those questions.

Oddly enough, this is a distinct difference to how our government is engaged with, or how political parties are questioned and challenged. This is the time to demand inclusive participation by communities and society in shaping not simply the next two months of electioneering, but rather the next five years of government. DM

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