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Voter’s quandary — clowns to the left, jokers to the right but who dominates middle?

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David Gant was co-founder and co-chairperson of Denis Worrall’s Independent Party in the late 1980s; Fedex Chair of the Democratic Party; member of the President’s Council; and member of the DP caucus. He was a delegate to the Codesas of the 1990s.

The unfortunate and dubious muddled and muddy political ‘revolving door’ environment does nothing to instil confidence in the South African version and practice of democracy among the electorate.

The integrity, credibility and general wholesomeness of a political party can perhaps be measured by its commitment and unwavering adherence to its professed and proposed values, principles, policies and practices. After all, it is those characteristics with which it invites and earns electoral support and financial donations.

Likewise, those individuals who hold senior positions within party structures or as public representatives, e.g. councillors, mayors, MECs etc can be expected to remain loyal and committed to the party itself and its support base.

The question of the morality and ethics of a party does then arise when it enters into a coalition with another party or parties that espouse contrary or materially different values, principles and policies. This is often referred to as an “unholy alliance”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Unholy alliance’s problem: No core beliefs other than saving themselves through weakening Ramaphosa, ANC and South Africa

Again, and likewise, those individuals who abandon their party for reasons other than genuine fundamental new-found political differences and deep disapproval of current party policies and practices can rightfully be accused of a betrayal of trust and political duplicity.

Generally, these opportunistic party and individual altered political associations or positionings do not come about to achieve the greater good for a country’s or specific community’s social or economic well-being, but are typically motivated by party or individual political ambition for power — at whatever cost — individual political status or personal financial enhancement.

Crossing the floor

There are numerous current and past examples in the South African political environment of such political flip-flopping and chicanery.

From within the Democratic Alliance, one former leader and three past senior city mayors (one of whom is the leader of a party competing with the ANC yet happily serves as an ANC Cabinet minister!) have either founded or joined an alternative political establishment.

A former president of the ANC and, indeed, the country is now the vociferous leader of a vehemently anti-ANC political party.

The ANC, EFF, Patriotic Alliance and some smaller parties and their municipal and metro councillors conveniently switch allegiances or form self-serving coalitions among themselves, bargaining as they do so for positions rather than principles. This despite the fact that they verbally abuse, bad-mouth and vigorously criticise each other at times when their short-term political goals or financial itchy palms are not at play.

This unfortunate and dubious muddled and muddy political “revolving door” environment does nothing to instil confidence in the South African version and practice of democracy among the electorate and causes them to either be disinterested in the coming elections or to be confused and uncertain about which party merits their support.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections hub

One can understand their dilemma. The ANC is itself in coalition with the SACP and Cosatu, both of which have conflicting ideological backgrounds and agendas vis-à-vis the ANC, which consequently does not seem to know whether to veer to its left or its right, rendering it unpredictable, indecisive and stagnant.

The EFF represents a potentially dangerous revolutionary loose cannon and the MK party, specifically its leader, seems hell-bent on revenge and retribution — even to the extent of criminally prosecuting the incumbent president of the country — and is showing a concerning leaning towards non-peaceful radicalisation.

The DA and Rise Mzansi are apparently offending each other about vote splitting and even from within the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) the electorate is getting mixed messages as to its current and future solidarity.

Also, for a rational voter, the prospect of spending one’s precious, rarely exercised vote on a party that is likely to achieve less than 1% — or only fractionally more — of the vote or insignificant representation in Parliament is not particularly appealing and the multiplicity of parties on the ballot paper simply adds to the general party option quandary.

Aiming for middle ground

Consequently, many traditional risk-averse middle-ground voters will prefer to again hedge their bets with centrist parties such as the DA, IFP, ACDP, FF+ and those disgruntled, long-suffering and disappointed traditional ANC or first-time voters may well be tempted to support the centre space now occupied as well by the likes of ActionSA, BPSA, Rise Mzansi etc, etc.

To misquote the composer Gerry Rafferty of the song often wrongly attributed to Bob Dylan, they may decide that politically with “clowns to the left, jokers to the right, it’s better to be stuck in the middle”.

However, many will ask just how solid, unified and cohesive is that middle ground and if it is without potential political cracks and crevices; and if the parties are generally of like-minded values, principle and policies, why are the dozen or more parties that seem to share that space all competing electorally with one another?

In essence and having regard to the fact that not one of them can achieve an independent electoral majority on their own, but could possibly have done so or at least have gained the most votes as a single political unit, why have they gone into this election selfishly and perhaps recklessly splitting votes between themselves into separate and — relative to the total electoral votes cast — minority fractions?

This will inevitably allow the ANC to emerge from this election as the party with the most votes, thus enabling it to be the dominant player within the next government.

Should this be the case, all those leaders and senior party decision-makers who have demanded electoral independence from other centrists, like-minded parties, even from those within the MPC, may well have sacrificed the future peace, progress and prosperity of the South African nation on the altar of their ill-judged political separatism. They will have possibly subjected us to another five frustrating and wasted years under continued ANC-dominated governance of our broken and beleaguered nation.

Some of those responsible for electoral separatism may conclude that merging middle-ground parties into one focused, dynamic electoral political magnet would have been premature — “marry in haste, repent in leisure”.

But I would suggest that had they held the interests of the nation above their own selfish party and individual ambitions and exhibited the crucial leadership characteristics of vision, a sense of reality, integrity, courage and a necessary recognition of the need for urgency, the South African electorate may well have had the opportunity to vote for a credible, viable, wholesome political establishment. An establishment that presented itself as a much-needed “government-in-waiting”, and the only real potentially positive political game-changer option on the May 2024 ballot paper. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ST ST says:

    Thank you David for pointing out this inherent dilemma for well meaning and motivated voters. I think others have also tried to, but somehow the lion’s share of the blame continues to be allocated to the voters themselves.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    Found somewhere on the Web “However fairly recently I heard a man who grew up in the same part of Scotland as Gerry Rafferty and he thought the lyrics were a memory of the only place that you could buy drugs in that city at the time. It was a flat in this very old tenement block. The line about wondering how I’ll get down the stairs was about the stairways being unlit after midnight. He thought the line about “clowns to the left of me” etc was just about the collection of weirdos who turned up at this dealer’s flat to get their drugs. It was a very interesting explanation of the lyrics of this song, but who knows ? Only Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan.

  • Rob Fisher says:

    “likes of ActionSA, BPSA, Rise Mzansi etc, etc.”
    BOSA Build One South Africa?
    As long as the voter can be sure that the party will not cross the aisle to the ANC / EFF / MK coalition, and as long as they get at least one seat in parliament I don’t see it this way.
    Personally I will vote for Mmusi Maimane and BOSA, as I see a future for a black political leader. I see no future for a white party, well not if their black leaders keep leaving anyway.
    The DA’s scare tactics are disingenuous and deceipful.

    • Denise Smit says:

      Colonialist draadsitter with one foot in Europe most probably

    • A Concerned Citizen says:

      The DA’s internal commission of inquiry into its poor, regressive performance in 2019, called for and instigated by Mmusi Maimane, found that his poor leadership was the dominant factor in their decline. Whether or not he is black, he is not a good political leader and will be ineffectual in a 1% party. Can we all please start looking past the surface of our skin and start caring about things that really matter like water, electricity, jobs, the economy, and service delivery? Isn’t that the point of a government?

    • J vN says:

      Ppusi should stick to preaching. He’s a lightweight nobody, impossible to take seriously.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Great article Mr Grant – especially the header! Brilliant!

  • Hari Seldon says:

    The DA should be working with Rise Mzansi and not attacking them and visa versa. The MPC should be focussing purely on what they can do compared to the ANC. What are the core policies all parties in the MPC agree on and voters can understand, and park the others for now. Why is BOSA not part of the MPC? Why is Rise Mzansi not part of the MPC?

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Go on the MPC Wikipedia entry and you’ll see them, but assuming you’re as lazy as your arguments, here they are:

      Anti-corruption
      Liberal conservatism
      Nonracialism
      Anti-ANC
      Anti-EFF
      Disputes

      • Roelf Pretorius says:

        The “anti-ANC” and “anti-EFF” is going to be the death knell of the MPC. As I explained elsewhere in this page, the “anti'” goes against the principles that every African, and even most Afrikaners grow up with. I mean, you can’t associate with them, fine, but African society is about HARMONY in society, which can’t be achieved as long as you see your opponents as your enemies.

    • Gerrie Pretorius says:

      Maybe waiting for the best offer? Power is what matters in politics, not principles and governance.

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      Rize Mzansi (by mouth of Songezo Zibi) made it clear that as long as the MPC sees the ANC as enemy number one, they can’t associate with it. Because they aim to get some of the ANC voters away from there, but the vast majority of the African population does not see the ANC as enemy, in fact it is against their culture to have such an attitude. African ubuntu values want South African society to live in harmony with each other, including to criticize with positive aims; also in order to be able to tie up with whatever political parties it can, after the election, in order to get something done for the voters. The idea can never be to vilify the ruling party in order to snatch power from it; vilifying is wrong because the voters, who, according to the principles of democracy, are always right, deemed the ruling party to be good enough until now, and the motive of snatching power for yourself means that you are not serving the voters, as is the idea in democratic politics, but you are serving yourself. It has to be kept in mind that RizeMzansi is a product of the Rivonia Circle, which is an elite think-tank, and as such it consulted wide and long with thousands of normal SA citizens about what is needed in SA politics. So the DA should rather listen to the newcomers, and not expect of the newcomers to bend to them. To BOSA and other newcomers, and even to an extent ActionSA, the same applies as to RizeMzansi: the DA needs to listen to them, not the other way round.

  • Rae Earl says:

    I read nearly all submissions to the Comments columns of both DA and News 24. Here and there comments from a black citizen occasionally appears but swamped by comments from white readers . Are there websites run by the black media and do they have comments sections? That would be illuminating in giving us insight into what motivates their voting base. Any info in this regard would go a long way in enabling us to visit the sites and start making inroads into the heavy bias of parties like the ANC, MK, and EFF.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Well, here’s some good news for you. Heading home from CPT on Saturday, my driver who has lots of friends and fellow workers in Khayelitsha, told me he reckons half of them will vote for the DA! And the fact that two and a half million of them, mainly, have voted with their feet and run away from the ANC’s awful ‘management’ in the Eastern Cape (and now presumably Knysna!) suggests they realise what a great job they’re doing here under really trying conditions and lack of money.

  • Stephen Browne says:

    So everyone should fall in the line with the DA, before a single vote is even cast. How very democratic. I support Rise’s decision to stay out of pre-election pacts. Why should the DA get to last minute contract out the essential work they should have been doing for years? Diversity-for-hire needed as they don’t have any. Rise may end up achieving a little more by NOT entering into a pact beforehand and thus be a more effective coalition partner.

  • Skinyela Skinyela says:

    “centrist parties such as the DA, IFP, ACDP, FF+ and those disgruntled, long-suffering and disappointed traditional ANC or first-time voters may well be tempted to support the centre space now occupied as well by the likes of ActionSA, BPSA, Rise Mzansi etc, etc.”

    I very much doubt that FF+, ACDP and actionsa are centrist parties.
    Centre-right, maybe, but definitely not centre.

    Even the IFP cannot be truly regarded as a centrist party.

    You only have to look at the policies of some political parties on matters like the death penalty, Immigration, TOP, same sex marriage, etc.

    On the issue of the lack of clear ideological conviction on our politicians I agree with you. Few days ago I watched and listened with shock at what Bongani Baloyi(former DA member and ex-mayor of the midvaal municipality) was saying.

    He was on SABC News’ morning live.
    He says, among other things, that we must do away with constitutional democracy and reintroduce parliament supremacy. He also said that we must do away with the provincial sphere of government.

    This is someone who was a member of a Liberal Party not so long ago.

    As for Zuma, well, the little said about him the better. The guy maintains that he is doing what he is doing in order to save, rescue and reclaim the ANC.

    According to him the current leaders of the ANC are illegitimate imposters who have turned the ANC into something he does not recognise.

    But what his MK Party is proposing on their manifesto is opposite of ANC policy.

  • Skinyela Skinyela says:

    “centrist parties such as the DA, IFP, ACDP, FF+ and those disgruntled, long-suffering and disappointed traditional ANC or first-time voters may well be tempted to support the centre space now occupied as well by the likes of ActionSA, BPSA, Rise Mzansi etc, etc.”

    I very much doubt that FF+, ACDP and actionsa are centrist parties. Centre-right, maybe, but definitely not centre. Even the IFP cannot be truly regarded as a centrist party.

    You only have to look at the policies of some political parties on matters like the death penalty, Immigration, TOP, same sex marriage, etc.

    On the issue of the lack of clear ideological conviction on our politicians I agree with you. Few days ago I watched and listened with shock at what Bongani Baloyi(former DA member and ex-mayor of the midvaal municipality) was saying. He was on SABC News’ morning live. He says, among other things, that we must do away with constitutional democracy and reintroduce parliament supremacy. He also said that we must do away with the provincial sphere of government. This is someone who was a member of a Liberal Party not so long ago.

    As for Zuma, well, the little said about him the better. The guy maintains that he is doing what he is doing in order to save, rescue and reclaim the ANC.

    According to him the current leaders of the ANC are illegitimate imposters who have turned the ANC into something he does not recognise.

    But what his MK Party is proposing on their manifesto is opposite of ANC policy.

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