The bigger question on why the presidential election can fail our democracy can be deconstructed into more manageable diagnostic components using the classic “who”, “what”, “where” and “when”. A better understanding of all the components would help to illuminate the final key question: Why the ANC presidential election could fail our democracy.
Who are the key candidates? Who among them peddles factionalism? Who promotes and nurtures indebtedness to a leader for personal gain? Who engages in acts of intentional manipulation to secure electoral power? Which candidate is supported by motive forces, and why? Who is supported by individuals and groups associated with state capture? What does the record say? It is safe to say that a manipulative vote-seeking presidential candidate, desperate to gain power, has a strong incentive to fiddle the outcome and in that way minimise electoral risk, guarantee victory and deter rivals.
We should also examine the impact of structural conditions, such as patronage, indebtedness, poverty and the unemployment curse that provide challenging constraints on electoral integrity and processes of democratisation.
A big threat to electoral integrity and, by implication, the future of our democracy is indebtedness to a factional leader.
The hegemonic capitalist ideology extends the logic of indebtedness to social and political life so that, for example, prospects for employment or access to lucrative deals - incentives for electoral choice - are perceived as investments made by the individual citizen. In this way, the voter is no longer conceived as a citizen, but as an entrepreneur making decisions as they choose among the candidates and increase or decrease their capital value.
This reconceptualisation of the individual member as “an entrepreneur of the self” means a significant change in the nature of democratic governance: a move away from the integrity of the citizen and the primacy of the public good.
Protection of the citizen becomes conditional and is tied to individuals whose behaviours are opened for continuous scrutiny and surveillance.
Factional leadership constructs individual members as human capital more or less indebted and insecure, but always vulnerable and precarious.
However, in the interest of change, the factional leader - the patron of indebtedness - is making us an offer we should reject.
Social scientists have developed models to try to capture the manner in which “entrepreneurs-of-the-self” affect presidential election outcomes and policy decisions.
Entrepreneurs-of-the-self, found in each sector or policy issue, can be said to constitute a policy subsystem within the larger political economic system.
The idea is based on the observation that such entrepreneurs develop systems of mutual support in the course of constant mutual interaction over policy, legislative and regulatory matters. They are often dubbed “iron triangle”’ to capture the essence of their structure as well as their iron-clad control over heads of state and policy processes.
These groupings are usually condemned for having “captured the state” by ensuring that their self-interests prevail over those of the general public.
Sections of the media often play an intermediating role in publishing issues connected to the entrepreneurial policy subsystems.
Mastering the configuration and application of such entrepreneurs as policy subsystems within different stages of decision processes, including the presidential election stage, is what should preoccupy every voter. We should take seriously the social practices and discourses of such entrepreneurs as agents of monopoly capital, and the way in which they have become entrenched in civil society if we are to understand the consolidation of neo-liberal hegemony.
The sociological perspective on electoral integrity is regarded as one of the most underlying social conditions in which elections fail democracy. Evidence exists that poverty, fear of poverty, unemployment and financial insecurity heighten the risks of electoral malpractice.
Patrons of indebtedness in rentier states, such as South Africa, control enormous assets that can be deployed to gain support and maintain their grip on power.
This brings us back to the basic question: Was the ecstatic unity of the people in Kliptown, at the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955, up to the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected president in 1994, mercilessly dispelled in the aftermath? Do current events not confirm the claim that, wherever a political movement wins, the price of victory is that the movement splits into antagonistic factions? In other words, are we seeing the beginning of a true emancipatory struggle, free of all illusions?
However, there is more in this unity than imaginary ideological illusions - every revolutionary movement by definition contains a radical dimension, a dream of solidarity and socio-economic justice that reaches beyond the narrow sphere of politics into economy, private life and culture, permeating the entire social fabric.
There is a dialectical movement of reversals at work here.
This is why the revolution has to be repeated so that true radical transformation can be achieved, transformation no longer sustained by imaginary illusions.
Now is the time, when the initial unity of the people is falling apart, that the real revolution begins.
It is not enough to get rid of the oppressor. The society that gave birth to them has to be transformed.
Everything hinges on whether there is a leader able to seize a contingent opening.
We should make a firm distinction between a candidate who is sincerely for “radical transformation” and one who wants “radical transformation without radical transformation”.
* Nkondo, a policy analyst, member of Freedom Park Council and Council of Unisa, Nkondo writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent