File image: IOL
T-shirts, a meal or even the promise of a post-election job - all are the currency of the corrupt and are used to buy votes.

Researchers believe this solves the riddle as to why voters vote for corrupt politicians.

Researchers from the Copenhagen Business School, in Denmark suggest that while South African voters want to punish corrupt candidates, they are more forgiving when those politicians offer certain benefits in return for their vote.

Their research was based on surveys that asked respondents about voting in the 2016 municipal elections.

What they found was that 8% of the voter population in South Africa were targeted with bribes in the 2016 municipal elections.

Now, as South Africa heads towards a general election early next month, the concern is that vote buying will happen again.

Already there is possible evidence. Last week the DA filed a complaint that controversial ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule handed over cash while campaigning door-to-door in Cape Town.

Magashule was seen giving a woman R400. He told journalists at the time that the handout was not buying votes, simply helping the poor.

The complaint was filed with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

This exchange of goods and services for political support is known as clientelism and the Danish researchers were surprised to find that South Africa with its strong democracy, secret ballot and fair elections, suffered from this problem.

The root cause of the problem, according to Professor Mogens Justesen, is that many South Africans don’t believe their vote is secret.

“In the case where parties distribute food parcels or even work or jobs that is contingent on political support, this only works in so far that they can access the secret ballot, which is probably very difficult in South Africa, or they can cultivate a belief among voters that their vote is not secret,” said Justesen.

“We asked people in our surveys to what extent did they think their ballot was secret. We found a worrying proportion of South Africans who think that ballot secrecy can be breached.”

Wits University political analyst Professor Susan Booysen believes that clientelism is a big problem in South Africa.

“It is so rife that people flaunt it, where people take photographs of their votes, so when they go for job applications they will show these as proof of how they voted.”

According to political analyst Professor Shadrack Gutto, it has become such a problem that it is now out in the open.

“The ugly face of this has come out very clearly with Ace Magashule campaigning and using money and saying that it is normal, people need the money. And that is arrogance, where you are saying we are corrupt and we are going to be openly corrupt.”

Justesen points out that clientelism works best in poor communities, and away from the prying eyes of the press. To put an end to the practice, he says that the IEC needs to emphasise that a voter’s ballot is secret. Gutto, however, believes that ending clientelism comes down to more than just dealing with corrupt politicians.

“Corruption is like a tango dance, one person can not dance tango. From that point of view those who take money that is given to them by politicians in order to lure them to vote are also corrupt. This is corruption and once you get used to that, society becomes rotten and rotten and rotten.”

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Saturday Star