Silly South African Season

Once again, the rather silly season of political campaigns for the South African population has come. 

What can people expect for the next few months? Politicians will be burning the soles of their shoes walking the streets, knocking at doors, kissing unsuspecting babies, engaging citizens and telling their stories.

Rallies will be held everywhere, T-shirts will be doled out by the millions, the masses will be invited to dance to musicians free of charge and countless speeches will be delivered. There will be flamboyance and theatrics galore.  

It is quite easy to see through their predictable tactics, as most of these tactics are rather old. 

A European politician is said to have remarked: “The masses are gullible. Hit them with a lot of pomp and awe, make a grand entrance and give them a bit of bread and you will have them eating out of your hand.” Doesn’t that sound familiar?

Well, maybe some competition and a bit of fun during elections are preferable to dictatorship and the dullness of a one party state. It is even more preferable to bleeding and death that are visited upon people in some countries whenever elections come around. Most countries within the Eastern African bloc like Tanzania and Burundi come to mind.

As we tangle with municipal elections in South Africa this year, we may need to pause and reflect and look at some of the defects of our political and electoral systems.

The first is that there is rather too much money involved in elections in this country. That’s undesirable because it means only those parties that are able to raise a lot of money to create razzmatazz vavavoom during elections would be able to compete at the polls to spread more ancient rubble rhetoric.

The challenge with money is that political parties would have to promise the donors something in return for their donations. Business relationships of kind. 

The corruption spectre might raise its ugly head here. As Thomas Mapfumo sings: “corruption, corruption, something for something, nothing for nothing”. It is thus a tad dim to complain about corruption in the public sector without examining the role of money in elections.

Too much money in elections also presents formidable odds against new entrants into the political space, which in turn robs the political environment of renewal, new ideas and vibrancy. 

Most of us know how almost impossible it is for people in the USA to go independent or form new parties outside the Democrats and the Republicans. 

The funding space is cornered by these two parties. Of course here is the big one: South African politics overpromises but under delivers. You can bet your last cent that the masses will be promised heaven and earth during the coming few months of campaigning, and very few, if any, of the promises would be fulfilled. No wonder many in our nation are now cynical about the democratic process and will not bother to vote. From a layman’s perspective, we shouldn’t blame them for being despondent, amidst the odds that we need to infuse a tradition of responsible active citizenry in such people.

The whole thing starts with the constitution. Anyone reading our constitution would imagine we are one of the most wonderful societies on the planet. And yet, the list of our societal defects is as long as your arm. Crime is rampant and our women and children are among the most unsafe in the world.

Inequality is the worst on earth and poverty levels are increasing all the time. The Statistician General has just told us in cold figures that black youth are robbed by this nation of a fair chance in life through poor education and training. We need to blame ourselves for this shocking reality.

Even if they do get an education, their chances of employment are less than those of their white counterparts. We knew that. It’s just that his figures hit you smack between the eyes.

The constitution is big on social rights but very thin on economic rights. And we have not seen a push in the last twenty two years to give black people greater ownership and control of the economy. 

That is, there is no meaningful drive towards economic democracy in South Africa.  Instead, we have been reproducing poverty and inequality through almost everything we do, including the poor education we provide for the black majority.

Yet, politicians will be running around the country promising the masses things most know will not materialise. It is cruel to feed poor people with unrealistic expectations and then condemn them when they spill into the streets to protest against unfulfilled promises.

Public knowledge is that corruption is the biggest enemy of the South African democratic project. Our society is bombarded by huge allegations of corruption through newspapers, radio, television news and social media.

Through their own observations, our people can see how many in the public sphere live in luxury at their expense. How tenders are given to people who are politically connected but ill-equipped to fulfill the aims of the tender. Cadre deployment has become a norm.

How some leaders engage in processes geared at stealing from the public purse, and how people without the requisite qualifications are employed in jobs well beyond their abilities and competences. 

Corruption induces anger, cynicism and suspicion in the population. It kills morale in the citizenry and alienates leaders from the ruled. It is a dangerous cancer that needs to be exorcised from our public life.

As we grapple with the elections of councillors, we should keep in mind the need to cleanse our system of blemishes that tarnish and weaken our public image governing environment.

Let’s use our heads rather than our stomachs when going to the polls.

Koketso Marishane is the Independence Commission Africa Chairperson and writes in personal capacity.

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