The South African political space has become an oligopoly of bad options for the public. In the same way that oligopolies are bad for the market, oligopolies in politics are bad for democracy. This election gives the voters another chance in reshaping the political market to introduce more robust competition, to introduce innovation and much-needed accountability.
With a lack of competition, the customer and the voter always lose. The South African democratic model was designed from the onset to encourage competition and hence innovation. The vision has always been to have a multiparty democracy with different sized players. This design was extended from local government to provincial and national government by the New Nation judgment of the Constitutional Court.
The Democratic Alliance has been running radio adverts discouraging people from voting for smaller parties. This is an argument that if honoured only leads to an entrenchment of political oligopoly.
Let’s closely examine the top three options which polls indicate will be ANC 50%, DA 18% and EFF 14% of voter support. The top three have fundamental flaws which necessitate the exploration of alternatives. These alternatives include smaller parties, they include independents.
The dominant party the ANC has a 27-year track record of incompetence, corruption, and bluster. These problems have been exacerbated by factional infighting and the country has paid a heavy price. During the pandemic billions have been looted, this year alone the country witnessed one of the most violent periods of unrest in the history of our 27-year democracy. The consequences of that unrest were billions of rands in damages, losses of jobs, closure of small businesses and most tragically the loss of over 360 lives.
The alternatives within the big three are not very attractive either, the Democratic Alliance is a political party that does not care or value the history of apartheid, they want to ignore the dynamics of race and identity in South Africa. In addition, they do not have compassion for the less fortunate in South Africa. They are deliberately determined to pursue the worst parts of the Republican Party agenda in an African context that is poorly served by narratives of free-market meritocracy.
The Economic Freedom Fighters are led by a man mired in corruption scandals, a leader who is driven by anger at best and by a thirst for racial revenge at worst. Not only is the key leader of the EFF a cause for concern, but the Zimbabwean economic policies that they have based their political vision on are a recipe for disaster in the 21st century. A command economy is not the recipe for shared prosperity, it is the recipe for shared poverty. South Africa needs a stronger social net, it needs stronger education and it needs well-managed institutions, it does not need a state-controlled economy at every level of life. The solution to the challenges faced by South Africa will not come from strong-man politics with centralised power.
Not only are the politics and ideologies of the big parties bad, the reality is that the big three parties have failed to hold their leaders accountable, accountability within a party is a function of popularity and power within the party, it is not a function of the public interest or the ethical questions at hand. Accountability actually works better when the elected official cannot hide behind the processes of the party, when they have to account directly to the community that elected them, when there is no Cyril Ramaphosa, no Helen Zille and no Julius Malema to protect them from scrutiny.
The people of this country need more options, options that do not harm them, they need options that allow for new voices to be heard, new actors to access public office. We are doomed if our only options rest in a hegemony of the big three. This is where smaller political parties, where independent candidates, independent movements offer massive value to the public.
The political party does not serve many individuals who want to participate in public service well, it is not a space for creative and competent mavericks, it is not a space for disrupters and entrepreneurs. The people who by design are oriented to getting things done. To be the best version of themselves such personalities and leaders need to be independent, they need to operate in a lean model, not a bloated bureaucratic system.
Not only do the key mechanisms of accountability still exist within a system with independent candidates, in many instances they are enhanced by the personal relationship of the leader with the people. In addition, the main disadvantages of the political party as we know them in South Africa are lost. It is a win-win for the public.
Large political parties attack the size of a party as if they started off enjoying the support they currently do — everyone starts somewhere and builds up their value to the communities, this is true of independents this is true of small parties. Simply saying something is small is not an argument for not choosing it. There was a time when Nokia was the largest seller of phones in the world, today that position belongs to Samsung — a reminder that being large is not a reflection of being relevant and being the best fit for the needs of the people. Niche movements often have better ideas and more energy to solve the problems of the day.
Finally, it is worth noting that no political party has a God-given right to the vote, the entitlement that certain parties have to the vote is obscene and unfettered arrogance. The vote must be earned in every election, it must be based on shared values, it must be based on respect for constituents and on a demonstration of competency. DM