You are constraining us –hold elections in February 2024

Multi- Party Charter of South Africa’s independent convention chairperson Professor William Gumede updates the media at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg. Picture: Kailene Pillay/IOL

Multi- Party Charter of South Africa’s independent convention chairperson Professor William Gumede updates the media at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg. Picture: Kailene Pillay/IOL

Published Aug 22, 2023


Nkosikhulule Nyembezi

I am pleasantly impressed that I am not alone in itching for an early national and provincial election following last week’s agreement by seven opposition parties involved in pre-election moonshot coalition talks, which re-branded their pre-election agreement as the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa and invited more parties to join the pact in a bid to secure a majority of votes needed to constitute a distinctive national and nine provincial governments after the poll.

Last week, my snap poll of political science and law students at UCT and UWC found that seven in 10 of us think the president and premiers should dissolve the legislatures this year and call an election as soon as next February.

Those commenting on the delays in implementing the State Capture Commission recommendations and the messy parole of prisoners believe an election will introduce urgency to resolving the country’s poor governance problems.

Those problems: rising crime, infrastructure decay, unresponsive and incompetent government, endemic corruption, high unemployment and poverty, are a source of national gloom, yet they have received disproportionately low attention in election manifestos as out-of-touch political parties have shown in their past campaigns that overlooked the #FeesMustFall and other mass protest demands in favour of pet-project priorities to enrich the elite.

They were also cursorily included but poorly articulated during the coalition talks as parties agreed on priorities for a coalition government. These included ending load shedding, growing the economy, creating jobs and delivering essential services through high-quality infrastructure.

Curiously, the parties also committed to a set of shared governing principles, including decentralisation of power to the lowest effective level of government, an open market economy and adopting policies “guided by evidence that they produce positive results for society”.

Our mood as citizens reflected in numerous polls, including analysis of routine Statistics SA surveys, makes for bleak reading of the prospects of the country.

Many voters have reservations about the competencies of the current crop of public representatives and say no when asked whether they will ever consider buying a used car from any of them.

Our mood feeds from our experience that most corrupt political parties have become a liability in our democracy, notwithstanding that corrupt political leaders are not short on optimism.

Still, while this has excited many of their party members, only a few ordinary voters are beginning to warm up to the idea that this coalition of oppositions will change much soon.

Understandably, South Africa is diverse, and there is no available one-size-fits-all approach. Some communities will benefit greatly and early from the pact and the presence of independents in our electoral politics.

In contrast, others will not.

As the mood in the household members hard hit by the socio-economic crisis makes clear, South Africans are miserable because we fear our politicians are too incompetent to plot their way out of our mess, not because they lack a positive attitude.

Politicians whose appeal seemed to transcend politics and whose reach earned them admiration badges seem to have a literal response to this collective pessimism, as many now have a more nuanced reputation because of their dismal performance record at the local government level.

For all their patriotic promise, they will continue to put their careers ahead of the national interest in securing reelection.

That said, the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa and independent candidates will likely enjoy a significant poll boost in competition with the governing ANC. Weary of the status quo, voters are almost always willing to put hope before experience and give a newcomer the benefit of the doubt – at least for a while.

That willingness makes me support a call for an early election in February next year instead of waiting for the May 21 expiration date of the current government.

My prediction is that the remaining few months leading to the constitutionally prescribed August 2024 deadline for holding elections will be as good as they can get in holding the government accountable in the wake of the Phala Phala farm saga and numerous intra-party and inter-party paralysing faction fights.

Waiting for the eleventh-hour deadline for holding an election will uselessly allow the public office incumbents to enjoy a short high-profile boost as they stage a public circus in the legislatures to embarrass political opponents. That profile boost will rarely be sustained. Instead, it will militate against securing a crucial high voter turnout needed to legitimise the election results.

President Ramaphosa’s disastrous “Ramaphiria” and “Thuma Mina” hype, as well as the altruism-deficiencies in opposition parties’ gimmicks in the face of a glaring lack of accountability from politicians, confirms, rather than questions, the “go early” rule, which is based on voters assuming the best until they know the worst.

There is no evidence to suggest that waiting longer will improve the quality of life for citizens – since the electorate got to know the character of most politicians in power, the game is over.

Another consideration is the fast-changing electoral landscape, which is much more complex and complicated to read than in the first 30 years of our democracy. Back then, prominent political parties received enough electoral support to pull their weight in government.

The electioneering has changed because an outright ANC majority is not necessarily how next year’s general election would swing. In the last local government election, the ANC received only 45.59% support, the first time in the party’s history that it dropped below 50%.

The resurgent new political alliances will challenge all the major political parties in some areas. Still, the more significant game-changers come from internal factions that will gain prominence as the finalisation of all party candidate list processes gain momentum.

Timing will be all – if Ramaphosa can call an early election without appearing to be evading the messy vote of no-confidence land mines ahead. If he cannot keep control of the political scene in the coming months, including the arrest and prosecution of big fish culprits listed

in the State Capture Commission report and several auditor-general’s reports, all bets are off.

Nyembezi is a researcher, policy analyst and human rights activist

Cape Times