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Country’s national elections next year will be without history or reality

A man drops his provincial vote in a ballot box after voting at a voting station in Bloekombos. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

A man drops his provincial vote in a ballot box after voting at a voting station in Bloekombos. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Sep 23, 2023


It was the moment that they all gathered to sanitise and eulogise Prince Buthelezi that it became clear that the country’s national elections next year would be without history or reality and focused only on the sanitised versions of failed political policies and practices.

It will be about sanitised personalities and parties that deliver saintly promises that voters feel personally comfortable with. This is the new global phenomenon in politics.

When, in 2016, Donald Trump said, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” it was the moment that elections were redefined for the entire world.

Reality has been so drastically altered that the ability to fully grasp political deceptions is no longer possible for the average voter.

Experiencing murder, death, hunger and violence are no longer factors that influence who voters vote for. Nor does it disqualify candidates on whose watch it occurred from seeking political office.

Take, for example, the ShotSpotter programme in Hanover Park.

On September 14, 2014, 11 years ago, the Sunday Argus reported that the ShotSpotter Programme recorded 240 gunshots over a three-week period.

That equates to an average of 11.5 gunshots a day experienced by the residents of Hanover Park. That’s a gun being fired every two hours for three weeks in a row. With its 50 000 residents, on average every three weeks 240 people – 11 a day – would be shot dead if every gunshot killed a human being.

Eleven years later, little has changed for Hanover Park. In a January, News24 interview about the murder rate in Hanover Park, CPF spokesperson chairperson Kashiefa Mohammed said, “These numbers grow every day. Some days. it’s impossible to keep track of how many people are dying at the hands of gangsters because there are just too many.”

The voters’ unwillingness to allow issues such as the Inkatha death squads, Life Esidimeni, Marikana, colonialism, violent Hanover Park, or looted and destroyed state assets and infrastructure to have any influence on their voting decisions is the reason failed politicians with failed systems and strategies are returned to office.

Voter cognitive dissonance is political capital for politicians. One reason for this crippling cognitive dissonance is that politics and elections have become an abusive and coercive ecosystem.

In the US, for example, in some extreme red counties, not being a Donald Trump fan subjects residents to abusive insults and violence. In South Africa, some communities, townships and farms have become entirely coercive – and life-threatening – as to who you should vote for.

One would expect Hanover Park to vote entirely differently from Camps Bay in a city like Cape Town.

But it doesn’t. The two communities could not be further apart but vote for the same political party. The same is true of the majority of voters in our national elections.

Voters return the same party to national power despite proven data about catastrophic corruption and failure. One thing it does show is that voters care very little about data and history. The big shift in voter behaviour is that micro engagements are the dominant influence when it comes to voting.

Can I catch a bus? Will the school accept my child? Is my job safe? Whoever is associated with making these micro-engagements happen, is who will get the vote. That’s why suburban, rural and township voting patterns essentially stay the same.

We have not seen seismic shifts in South African voting patterns in the past, and we should not expect to see them next year.

Although we are a young democracy in years, we are showing signs of being a geriatric democracy in voting patterns. We sanitise history and romanticise the past.

We are nostalgic and haters of change. For South African voters, every election is a sanitised experience. The past simply does not count. It’s the micro engagements that matter.

* Lorenzo A. Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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