Opinionista Paul Hoffman 8 April 2019

What do ordinary voters want of the general election?

The core question for the upcoming elections for the national Parliament and the provincial councils in our nine provinces is whether the dominant party stranglehold which the ANC has enjoyed will come to an end, making SA ‘coalition country’ after the results are all counted. Or whether the status quo will continue in a slightly adjusted or diluted form, as the polling organisations suggest.

While the legal form of our South African political set up is called a multi-party constitutional democracy under the rule of law, the practical situation for most of the time since our national liberation in 1994 has been what is called a “dominant party state”. The alliance led by the ANC and consisting of its partners the SA Communist Party and trade union federation Cosatu is the “dominant party”.

Dominant party states are susceptible to all manner of ailments. The “sins of incumbency” multiply, grand corruption becomes rife and the ordinary citizen has to medicate the body politic or take the pain of the ailments which tend to impact most severely on the poor who, in SA, make up about half of the population.

The dominance of the alliance is on the wane; the outcomes of previous elections have begun to change in recent years. Cosatu has split; it is a shadow of its former self, while the SACP remains reticent to campaign in its own name. The DA has become the government of choice in the Western Cape, mainly on the back of disenchantment — with the ANC’s “frog boiling” brand of African nationalism — among voters who would have been classified as “coloured” in the old SA. The DA is also in charge, or in an uneasy coalition, in several metros around the country since the 2016 municipal elections.

The core question for the upcoming elections for the national Parliament and the provincial councils in our nine provinces is whether the dominant party stranglehold which the ANC has enjoyed will come to an end, making SA “coalition country” after the results are all counted. Or whether the current status quo will continue in a slightly adjusted or diluted form as the polling organisations suggest.

The voters of SA have the answer to this question and they will, as they do every five years, decide whether to participate in the voting, and if they do, which party of the 48 contesting the national election will get the vote of those who do not deliberately spoil their ballot papers in a somewhat quixotic form of protest.

Some will vote their fears, others their aspirations. Some will prefer the devil they know, others will abstain or spoil their ballots in order to show their displeasure or disinterest in or distaste for the whole process. The views of ancestors will be considered, old allegiances weighed for their utility and new options will possibly be considered.

It is accordingly timely to consider what the country was able to agree on when the new dispensation replaced the parliamentary sovereignty of the old apartheid order. Our Constitution is a fortress to which thinking voters can turn in times of stress and strain of the kind that corruption, load shedding and other failures of service delivery bring.

The overarching question is: Are we in the process of transforming the country for the better with the way we cast our votes, or are we taking the country to “failed state” status with the high levels of corruption we endure as a malady in need of containment “before it graduates into something terminal” as the Chief Justice warned in 2014?

The word “transformation” does not appear in the Constitution. Nevertheless, it is a transformative compact in that the change from parliamentary sovereignty to constitutional supremacy means that the politicians voted into power can be kept to the tenets of the rule of law and to passing laws as well as conducting themselves in a manner which is consistent with the Constitution itself.

Failure to do so involves risking the courts declaring laws or conduct inconsistent with the Constitution invalid at the instance of all who are willing to hold the political parties to the deal or “national accord”, which informs the Constitution.

At its heart, the Constitution requires a form of governance that is open, accountable and responsive. Politicians cannot do as they please; they have to paint within the lines drawn by the supreme law. When they don’t do so, our independent courts of law are there to correct the situation arising from unconstitutional law or conduct. The notion of equality before the law requires that crooked politicians be treated in the same way as any other criminal.

The founding values of the Constitution reveal the transformation that it contemplates. Universal respect for human dignity, promotion of the achievement of equality and the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed to all our people are at the pinnacle of the constitutional project.

To achieve these transformative goals our Bill of Rights requires the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil all of the human rights which are collected and specified in 27 sections of the Constitution. These binding requirements pose an onerous task for the state, especially as some of the socio-economic rights are expensive to deliver and have to be realised progressively within the limits of available resources.

The availability of resources to use for realising human rights is severely limited when grand corruption sees funds intended to transform society diverted into the pockets of the corrupt, the “tenderpreneurs” and the politicians and public servants who conspire with them to steal from the poor with the impunity that grand corruption has enjoyed in the Zuma years, due to the capture of the criminal justice administration by the corrupt.

Zuptoid, Bosasan and now Magashulen crimes are all matters of public knowledge. Whether voters will act on the threat grand corruption poses to sustainable progress, secure peace and shared prosperity remain to be seen.

The failure of the state to deliver services that do realise human rights leads to service delivery protests by those who are sufficiently displeased that their rights are being neglected by the politically connected. The increasing number of these protests suggests a groundswell of unhappiness with those in power. These protests have not dented the majority the ANC enjoys, but have perhaps reduced public participation in elections to the point where more people did not vote than voted in favour of the ANC in the previous national elections.

This startling phenomenon is a reflection on the inability of opposition parties to the left and to the right of the ANC to attract support at the polls. The prospect of more voters participating and casting votes for parties other than the dominant alliance still seems relatively remote. Disingenuous propaganda by the “party of liberation” and fear mongering about losing social grants ensures that the poor are terrorised into voting for the ANC, or at its lowest, not voting at all.

At this stage, it is hard to work out what the faction-riddled ANC stands for apart from the enrichment of its roughly one million members through corruption and various forms of affirmative action that are meant to redress the lot of the disadvantaged, but in real,ity advance the least-disadvantaged elite. The effect of the “broad church” nature of ANC governance has been a conglomerate approach that veers between capitalism, Marxism and African nationalism, much to the chagrin of those on the left.

The ANC itself claims to be pursuing its “national democratic revolution” (a Leninist idea) with “dexterity of tact” and due regard for the “balance of forces in society”. The ultimate objective of this revolutionary agenda is hegemonic control of all the levers of power in society through the strategic deployment of its loyal cadres into all centres of power.

A country with a population of more than 58 million can hardly be properly governed by those drawn from a party with about one million members, many deployed to tasks they are not qualified to perform. So far this project has had the effect of reducing our state-owned enterprises to insolvent circumstances, incapable of keeping the lights on, the trains running on time and the jets in the air. Instead, SOEs have become sites of looting on a massive scale.

When the denizens of the revolution get round to controlling the banks, our industries, mines and the (relatively free) media; the constitutional vision of the new dispensation will be destroyed on the hegemonic altar of hard-core Leninist socialism. The pursuit of establishing this socialist utopia and its alternative vision will lead to a Zimbabwean or Venezuelan future for SA in which life will be nasty, brutish and short.

The rule of law, the separation of powers and the use of checks and balances on the exercise of political power will all disappear, as they have done in Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Socialism has not actually worked anywhere it has been tried. Caring capitalism and social democracy appear to be closer to the constitutional ethos in SA.

What is certain is that the forms of transformation contemplated by the Constitution are not consistent with the tenets of the ANC’s “national democratic revolution”.

The opposition parties have been powerless in the past to persuade the electorate of the folly of taking the country down the rutted road to socialism. It will be signposted by junk status for our economic ratings, increasing unrest, a loan (with serious strings attached) from the International Monetary Fund to keep the elaborate social grant system going and a flight of capital from the country. For some corporate investors, the flight of capital is compulsory because rules forbid investment in “junk status” countries. Jobs will be even scarcer than they are already.

Those who have nothing and who have not benefited materially from the post-1994 dispensation are not enamoured by the lack of progress with the economic policies followed by the ANC. They appear to be willing to try anything different to improve their lot, irrespective of what the lurch to the left will do to affect the trajectory of the country deleteriously.

The EFF has found support among the poor and the dispossessed; the fact that the socialist future it has in mind has not worked anywhere it has been tried does not deter the EFF policy-makers from making big and bold promises to the electorate; populist promises that surely cannot be kept.

The DA seems to have fallen into the trap of making itself into the “ANC-lite” instead of sticking to the liberal principles of elements of its past incarnations. How this makes ANC supporters change their allegiance is difficult to divine. Whether previous abstainers will throw in their lot with the DA is hard to tell; the DA certainly does not seem to be in any way interested in courting this big group. Instead, it seeks to persuade ANC supporters of the error of their ways.

A slogan: “The ANC is stealing from the poor” would surely have found greater resonance than “The ANC is killing us”, especially among the poor, who are far more numerous than those killed by misadventures of the ANC at Marikana, Life Esidimeni and in the days of Aids denialism.

The smaller parties do not seem to have the ability to attract voters; they have shrunk over the years and the new parties, historically speaking, do not do well enough to make any significant difference.

Most voters — especially those who chose not to vote previously — have five choices available:

  • Support the ANC in the hope that it will change its corrupt ways;

  • Vote for the DA to help it amass sufficient support to play a constructive and cleansing role in a future coalition government:

  • Put in a disruptive vote for the EFF despite the VBS Bank scandal and the naked racism of its leadership;

  • Abstain; and

  • throw in a vote for any appealingly attractive small party to show disgust with the bigger ones.

A cynical commentator suggests to voters that they hold their noses while voting. It is certain that the electorate gets the government it deserves. South Africans who remain true to the transformative vision of the current constitutional dispensation, who still desire a nation united in its diversity with open, accountable and responsive governance, have their work cut out for them in deciding where to place the all-important X. DM

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