The truth about these elections...it’s our time to eat

By Time of article published Sep 27, 2021

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The mere fact that one is allowed to cast votes does not suggest that one is liberated

David Letsoalo

We have officially entered the election season and various political organisations and individuals have been jolted into an electioneering frenzy.

This eccentric scenario has unleashed itself at a time when we are commemorating the 44th anniversary of the death of an inspirational leader and champion of Black Consciousness, Steve Bantu Biko. As a committed freedom fighter, he paid the ultimate price for true and total freedom of the vanquished Black masses in this country, Azania.

It is in this September month that another iconic liberation heroine, Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, is remembered. She was born on 26 September 1936. It is fascinating that the EFF is set to launch its manifesto on this day as they officially open their own offices in Johannesburg, the Winnie Mandela Building. Mama We Sizwe (The Mother of the Nation) would have turned 85 today. She passed on three years ago.

Speaking at the Kgosi Mampuru prison cell where Steve Biko gave his last breath, veteran Black Consciousness leader ,Ntate Tiyani Mabasa, recently eloquently illustrated the significance of commemorating Biko’s death in the present context. In his wise words, he said Biko symbolized servant leadership and love for one’s people. It is in this sense that he is an example of the fight against racism, oppression, corruption and white supremacy.

However, my focus now is the real value of elections in juxtaposition to the conduct of individuals across the political spectrum, as they vie to have their names to appear on the candidate lists which is a key for the door leading to the cushy positions of councillors in various municipalities.

Contestation around these lists have led to violent attacks and deaths. It is such a melancholic state of affairs to comprehend that, in the name of elections, some could degenerate to this drastic low-end for a seat in the municipal chambers. In addition, there is so much money spent, even by so-called independent candidates, in this contest. I really find this perplexing.

Is this the love for the people and the will to serve that drives people to take egregious steps to ensure their names make it to the ballot papers? This runs against the values and spirit of servant leadership and self-sacrificial posture. Thomas Sankara gave us a genuine example of ethical leadership, while the PAC leadership of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe has consistently propagated the notion of “serve, suffer and sacrifice” to spearhead servant leadership.

It is my view that as we get embroiled in elections, we should always remember the uncomfortable truths that the Black race has been mercilessly victimized over many years of our painful history. We are a nation that suffered during colonialism and apartheid. We continue to shed tears even during 27 years of the rainbow dispensation.

Yes, our people remain the exploited, the impoverished, the hungry, the excluded and the oppressed. It is such elements that prompt me to ask the question as to why we have lost our sense of self-love, solidarity and vigilance. I cannot resist the temptation to surmise that we are too complacent especially when it concerns serious matters that pertain to our existence as black people in this hostile anti-black world. We obstinately continue to defile and betray Biko and the Black Consciousness mantra of self-worth, while we are casual about Sankara’s powerful ideal of an “upright man”.

Pan Africanists will consistently remind us that the real point of contention or the fundamental item of conflict in this country is the land. Thus, the land, in the sense of repossessing it from the conquerors or dispossessors should underline our understanding of the revolution or freedom struggle.

I get extremely worried when a false narrative is created to suggest that we will get our liberation through elections. My submission is that we should accept that elections are about service delivery albeit within the selfsame oppressive system. In other words, they are not meant to disrupt the system. What they effectively do is manage our anger and frustration within the framework of the “democratic” system.

I thus describe them as a mechanism that serves to sustain and legitimize the status quo hegemony. They effectively manifest themselves as cycles of selfish or individualistic opportunities of aggrandizement.

History has shown that it is possible to have service delivery within an unjust system. The mere fact that one is allowed to cast votes does not suggest that one is liberated. As much as there were elections and service delivery during the Bantustan and apartheid times it did not mean that black people were free. Just as the 27-year-old rainbow story is another example of the lie of elections, I venture to say that we may vote and vote until we are monstrously green in our faces, we might not get liberation.

So, elections are not a revolutionary act at all. What is revolutionary is what the leadership might do after getting the vote. In other words, a mentally colonized or unconscientised politician will perpetuate the agenda of the oppressor when the black masses had given him/her the vote.

Renowned musician, Sello Galane, laments our complacency in this regard when he admonishes us not to simply give people our votes when they have no love and respect for the people. As black masses, he says, we got the power not to vote for such people. Our response to calls for “Thuma Mina” should be “Asithumi Nje”. Our vote should not be unconditional! We should vote for cadres who have compassion for the masses, he emphasizes.

Elections are generally believed to be the livewire of democracy. It is on the basis of elections that a lie has fossilized to suggest that democracy is the will of the people. This is where the notion of “the people shall govern” emanates from. However, there is a difference between rhetoric and reality.

That’s why I hardly believe that the ferocious actions by individuals to be on the ballot paper are precipitated by the will to benefit the people, or for the people to govern. It’s a sheer manipulation of circumstances to serve oneself within an obnoxious system. It is about the stomach. We can therefore accept that any election season heralds the time for some people to eat. Figuratively and literally.

The idea of the “will” implies consciousness, awareness or knowledge of the realities and phenomena one is confronted with. I doubt whether ignorant electorate who are hoodwinked election after election to vote for the same people responsible for their misery can be regarded as an expression of the “will”. It defies logic by any measure to contemplate that a conscious or knowledgeable mind can wish to have people responsible for their indignity, humiliation, pain, hunger, poverty and suffering be put in political office as councillors. It is my view that t-shirts, hand-outs, social grants, food parcels or even the so-called RDP houses are not the real or fundamental elements of liberation.

I need to add the view that votes accumulated from the exploited situation or condition of poverty, cannot strictly speaking be seen to be a result of the “will” of the impoverished and vulnerable voter. This should explain why there is generally no alignment between the real living conditions of the people and the parties that win (or lose) elections. Of course, I don’t discount the possible shenanigans and dirty tricks happening along the electoral processes. Democracy, therefore, is a farce, a gimmick or a scheme that rests on the magic of numbers rather than substance. On this pathetic basis, I daresay that democracy is essentially overrated.

You thus need to be a steely, ruthless or heartless politician with the temerity and gumption to steal from people, humiliate them and impoverish them to continuously and unashamedly approach them time and time again during election seasons to ask them to vote you into political office. I think this is rude, insensitive, disrespectful and utterly inhumane.

Frankly, if this “game” was really about the poor and confronting the “injustices of the past '', all the left-leaning parties would have clubbed together during elections to win this game for the benefit of Black people. Instead, we see so-called black parties finding it so easy to fight amongst themselves rather than unite. We see this sense of disunity manifesting itself within parties themselves (intra-party) and between parties (inter-party). Are we cursed with the fetish of disunity and self-hate? It is painful that it has become almost normal for black people to consistently be on each other’s throats.

We need to be alive to the reality of these elections that they are essentially not a vehicle for true liberation. In this regard, it is imperative that we get used to reflecting on this matter and see how best to use them for the betterment of the conditions of black people. We need to be honest about elections and refrain from selling a lie to the people that elections are a mechanism for liberation. We should recognize the limits thereof. As we register and ultimately vote on 1 November, we should be discerning about our leaders or candidates, and that it’s about their stomachs rather than our liberation. The real struggle continues. Asithumi nje!

David Letsoalo is a Sankarist, an activist and Law academic

Sunday Independent

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