Defend Truth


The current political system and parties have failed us — we must change from the bottom up


Mbali Ntuli is a community activist and former member of the KZN Legislature.

All our political parties have failed to respond decisively to the issues faced by South Africans and to bring us all together, instead of sowing division for short-sighted political gain.

South Africans like myself are becoming more and more disillusioned by political parties and the current political systems that govern them. Time and time again, ordinary South Africans have tried to send strong messages bemoaning crime and diminished safety, poor service delivery, rampant corruption that has bled the public coffers dry, and poor quality of life — all of which have continually landed on deaf ears as the rigidity and the lack of responsiveness of the current political system persists.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo has led many to take to the streets in protest as political systems built to serve, protect, and uplift fail them consistently. Aside from protest, one of the more telling ways in which South Africans have shown a gradual rejection of the current political system and political parties alike is at the polls.

According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), of the over 40 million eligible voters in South Africa, a total of 26.2 million South Africans had registered ahead of last year’s Local Government Elections (LGE). This means that more than 13 million eligible South Africans had not registered to vote, accounting for around a third of the eligible voter population — this is cause for serious concern as more people turn their back on traditional politics and the political establishment and are left despondent, while first-time voters see no value in being politically engaged in electoral politics.

In a 2020 paper by Collette Schulz-Herzenberg, The South African non-voter: An analysis, she found that, “On 8 May 2019, South Africans voted in their sixth democratic national and provincial elections. A record 26.7 million eligible South Africans registered to vote in the election. The registered population represented 74.6% of the total voting-age population of over 35.8 million. Over 17.6 million voters participated on election day. Yet electoral participation decreased quite dramatically, accelerating the steady decline in voter turnout across South Africa’s previous democratic elections.”

Schulz-Herzenberg also noted that “the decline in the turnout rate of 8% among registered voters from 73% in 2014 to 66% in the 2019 elections was the sharpest since the 2004 elections. It meant that, for the first time since the founding democratic elections in 1994, less than half (49%) of all eligible South Africans cast a vote in 2019. South Africa’s participation levels are now on par with other low turnout countries in terms of its eligible participation.”

In a 2018 study by the Pew Research Centre, it was found that most South Africans (two thirds) were dissatisfied with the state of their democracy, which was in contrast with the 67% who were satisfied back in 2013.

This decline and overall sentiments are not only an indictment of the ANC as the ruling party, but of all political parties who are currently players in the existing political system. All have failed to respond decisively to the issues faced by all South Africans, and to bring us all together, instead of sowing division for short-sighted political gain.

The current political system and existing political parties are not focused on making South Africa the equitable, just country it needs to be — they are simply not able to foster collaboration and innovation and organise to make a difference. It (and they) are failing to deal with its socioeconomic problems and enabling South Africans to advance and access opportunities.

I believe that communities have been at the forefront of finding solutions to the many issues that they face, led by the most innovative and determined changemakers among them — they already have the answers to some of South Africa’s burning socioeconomic questions. If community leaders who have a proven track record of uplifting their communities and bringing about lasting change are brought into politics and are empowered to get the things done that communities need — maybe then citizens would be more engaged with the political process.

At the moment, political parties are not invested in empowering community leaders which is why we must all be seized with thoughts of how to change the way our democratic participation system works. As it stands the law stipulates that an entity must be registered to take part in the elections. The law is less prescriptive as to how that entity chooses to organise and convene communities, however.

When political parties were banned during apartheid, there was still mobilisation and organising at a community level. The key to a changing political discourse will be to go back to that culture and build up. DM



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All Comments 9

  • South Africans are not the victims of corruption ……. they facilitate corruption in the majority. Enough crying about something that is voted for, it is wanted.

  • One should not have to belong to a party to get elected. Vote for local independents! And agree, our political parties have failed miserably and caused untold misery. ANC, EFF and DA? Don’t like any of them.

  • Mbali for President!
    While we’re changing the system, let’s get a better way of making our MPs accountable to their constituents for their performance (miss your targets three times and you’re out! Or salary related to performance. ). I’m sure the experts can come up with a suitable mechanism.

  • The problem is still that too many voters vote for an organised crime syndicate. As long as the ANC mafia rule the country /provinces, other political parties can’t do much. Furthermore, people expect this ANC mafia to somehow fix all problems, even if they were vaguely competent and not completely obsessed with their politics of their immense bellies, they would not be able to solve most of South Africa’s problems – it is the citizens of South Africa who have to do that. The less government involvement the better. Central control is a recipe for disaster, one would think the example of the Soviet Union would be well learned by now.

  • This article implies that all parties are equally to blame for the current dysfunctions in our current iteration of democracy. I do not agree with this. The blame should lie squarely with those parties that, firstly, have an excessively centralised and populist structure (ANC, EFF etc), and secondly those that actively seek to divide the citizenry and foster racial mistrust (ANC, EFF etc). We could add a third category that includes those parties that have some of their leadership guilty of corruption (ANC, EFF etc). I’m seeing a pattern here…

    Even if we assume that the problem lies with the current structure of our democracy as opposed to it simply being an issue of accountability, there is one solution that would solve all three of the abovementioned problems in one move: Federalisation. We already have the broad outlines for it in our provincial system. All we need to do is deepen it. But of course the ANC will oppose this tooth and nail because federalism by its nature antagonises the authoritarianism that the ANC thinks it is entitled to.

    So basically the voting public needs to give the ANC a snotklap that even Will Smith would be jealous of. Enough to beat the self-serving arrogance out of the ANC and make it realise that the time has come to reform or die.

  • Yes, but what do we do? The electoral system is not going to change as it benefits those that are being elected. So, more protests? More destruction? Hasn’t “helped” to date

  • It is not the political system (constitutional democracy) that has failed the country, but the ANC. Looking for the ROOT cause, the fault must lie with the voters who mindlessly keep returning this failed party to power, when alternative options exist.
    The ANC has successfully demonized the only real opposition party in the eyes of its natural constituency. So, instead of switching their vote away from the ANC for its ever-escalating failure to render services to those in need, the sufferers protest that they will withhold their vote at the next election.
    Does this stupidity not better explain the massive stay-away, than does your theory about system failure?
    You should also jettison your fond hope, Mbali, that the fundamentally undemocratic ANC will ever “empower” any community leaders who are not loyal members of their network, not “to get the things done that communities need”, nor for any other purpose. The ANC ringleaders show no inclination to share their loot outside the inner circle centred on their magic money tree. Don’t base your future direction on wishful thinking, Ms Ntuli.

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