Opinionista Omry Makgoale 11 July 2019

Let’s form an Electoral Reform Society

The dark clouds of the looming storm are gathering over the Union Buildings and Luthuli House. Is the president safe and secure to do his work?

As ANC members, we watched with dismay when the candidate lists full of Gupta and Watson deployees were sworn in as Members of Parliament in Cape Town. Those who had illusions of a clean ANC candidate list were disappointed, but not surprised. The candidate list brought regrets to others who voted for the ANC in the hope that President Cyril Ramaphosa would clean the state, and clean the government.

So far it appears that Ramaphosa has been outmanoeuvred by the Zuma slate led by ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, although there are positives despite the inclusion of David Mahlobo as the deputy minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. Under Zuma as president, Mahlobo had been the minister of energy and was at the heart of the very controversial nuclear deal negotiations with the Russians. Another Zuma appointee, Angie Motshekga, reappointed as Basic Education Minister, continues to produce Grade 4 pupils who cannot read and write, according to a study conducted by Professor Sarah Howie.

Among the positives is Pravin Gordhan as Public Enterprises Minister, who continues to work diligently despite many detractions from the Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane (appointed under Zuma in 2016), and from the Economic Freedom Fighters under Julius Malema. Ronald Lamola as Minister of Justice is a breath of fresh air and, like Environment Minister Barbara Creecy, can be trusted to do his work diligently.

However, the deployment from Luthuli House to parliamentary committees is worrisome. The deployment of Supra Mahumapelo – the former premier of North West, and a close confidant of the Guptas – as a chairperson of the tourism committee is a prime example. Mahumapelo destroyed the economy in North West and stands accused of allowing the Guptas to maraud the province with impunity. He was removed as a result of rolling protests by the people of North West.

Then there is the appointment of Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the former energy minister who presided over the sale of the country’s strategic fuel reserves to chair the police committee. Can this subcommittee assist the police service to recover from the hollowing left by Lt-General Richard Mdluli (former head of crime intelligence), Lt-General Berning Ntlemeza (former head of the Hawks) and Lt-General Kgomotso Phahlane, the former acting commissioner of police? It is unimaginable.

Then what about Bongani Bongo, former minister of state security, currently being investigated for attempting to bribe a parliamentary employee, who has been put in charge of the Home Affairs committee? Can he be trusted to serve the people of South Africa diligently and with integrity?

We then have former minister of communications Faith Muthambi, who stands accused of working hand-in-glove with the Guptas, even sharing board and Cabinet minutes with them. Muthambi drained SABC resources to near bankruptcy to fund the Gupta-controlled New Age newspaper and ANN7 TV station. Appointed as chairperson of a key oversight committee of the National Assembly – its Co-operative and Traditional Affairs portfolio committee – can she be trusted to serve the interests of the people of South Africa? Can she spell the word integrity?

There is also Mosebenzi Zwane, the former minister of mineral resources and a close confidant of the Guptas – the minister fingered as facilitating the corrupt diversion of Estina dairy farm funds to pay for the Guptas’ wedding at Sun City in North West. Zwane behaved like a terrier in defence of the Guptas, even threatening Nedbank for closing the Guptas’ accounts with possible termination of their banking licence. Now he is elected to be the chairperson of the Transport Committee. Can he be trusted to serve the interests of the people of South Africa?

Considering these appointments, it appears the situation has gone from bad to worse. Can President Cyril Ramaphosa survive as a reforming president under this dark cloud?

All these developments show that the ANC cannot be saved unless it undergoes a complete overhaul.

This cannot be achieved by ANC internal action only. The grasp of Zuma’s hand in deep-level penetration of the ANC, the state and the economy is still too strong. Given the extent of corrupt practice at the highest level in the ANC under Zuma, and given the basic flaw in South Africa’s political process set in place in the Constitution in 1993, Ramaphosa’s hands have been tied. Under present conditions and for the foreseeable future, he is the prisoner of Zuma’s corruption system, just as we, the people of South Africa, are its prisoner.

We are the prisoners of unaccountable MPs, who have shown us – the voters – that they can even keep the president as their prisoner. They control him, he cannot control them.

Our problem as voters is that the Constitution renders us powerless. We have no power to elect individuals of our choice. All we can do at a general election is tick a box for a political party – Party A, Party B or Party C – and then passively accept the list of party appointees that each of the parties’ headquarters sends into Parliament as its own (not our own) representatives.

This failed political system gave us State Capture, the Guptas and the Watsons, but we must acknowledge our own fault for tolerating our own powerlessness for so long. When a people passively accepts its own enslavement, they cannot complain about the consequences.

What needs to be done is that we revive South Africa’s history of struggle for freedom, so that we achieve democratic accountability of government of the people, for the people, by the people. This means that we as voters must choose MPs ourselves, and take away that power from party headquarters, which in the case of the ANC is rotten.

Our current electoral law – which gives party headquarters the power to select MPs for itself – is the fatal flaw in the Constitution, drawn up under the guidance of Nelson Mandela. We need to revive and expand Madiba’s spirit of freedom to free our democracy from this crippling flaw.

The ANC cannot do this by itself. To prevent future State Capture, we as the people of South Africa need to develop a mighty political movement across all parties to change the 100% proportional representation electoral laws and introduce multi-member constituencies in which 75% of Members of Parliament will be directly elected and 25% of Members of Parliament will be appointed by the respective party headquarters.

We need electoral reform so that we have One Person One Vote for electing individual Members of Parliament. The current system is One Person One Vote for choosing a political party, and you are then at the mercy of internal dynamics of your respective political party. When your political party is captured, your vote is captured. As a voter you want to vote for somebody you know and trust rather than to be given a list of crooks, knowingly or unknowingly.

MPs will not listen to us as voters until they fear our own power to get rid of them more than they fear their own party headquarters.

Simultaneously, ANC renewal will be through One ANC Member One Vote for electing leaders from the president to the branch chairperson. This will give all ANC members the power to clean the leadership by directly electing president, secretary-general, treasurer-general and other National Executive committee members for the first time since ANC’s inception in 1912.

Saving the country from State Capture will require a mass campaign across party lines and affiliations to reform the parliamentary electoral laws. We need all patriots on board to save the South African ship from sinking.

We should consider coming together in an all-party Electoral Reform Society. DM

Omry Makgoale is a rank-and-file member of the ANC. These are personal views

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