A majority is good enough
Zackie Achmat unravels the inherent flaws in the drive for a two-thirds majority and tells why he's still going to vote for the ruling party.
Many ANC activists argue for a 67% or 70% majority in the 2009 general election. Most of my comrades who argue for this overwhelming majority say that it is necessary to ensure that social transformation is completed. Under present circumstances this argument is legally, socially and morally flawed and untenable.
In the past 10 years we have had about 70% of the votes cast. Under the leadership of then president Thabo Mbeki and his then deputy president, Jacob Zuma,—and especially between 1999 and 2004—a tremendous disenchantment of voters with the ANC and all political parties occurred. Why is this so?
Political life has changed fundamentally for the better in South Africa. This is in large part because of the ANC, its history, vision and capacity to unite the country and avoid a brutal racial civil war. Sadly, the proportion of the votes cast allowed our leaders to become arrogant and to fail poor and working-class communities in the areas of education, health, housing, water, transport, safety and security and employment.
The need to fulfil the promise of real freedom and dignity for all people, especially the majority of black African people in our country, remains as pressing as ever. Instead of transformation we have presided over a corrupt political system and state bureaucracy supported at the top by private sector cronies locally and globally. This made me part of that group of citizens that have come to believe that our party’s anthem is no longer Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika but Love Me Tender, sung lustily at every shrinking branch meeting.
The majority of people who support the ANC but who do not vote, or who spoil their ballots, also see that inevitable poll victories may actually undermine delivery.
So here are several reasons to consider some humility, contrition and grace in asking our people for their votes to gain a simple majority, never mind to demand an overwhelming two-thirds majority.
Do we need a two-thirds majority to ensure that every child gets a decent education? We have had 70% of the vote and control of all nine provinces, but the inequality in our education system and the intellectual dispossession of African and coloured working-class children is deeper than at any time under apartheid.
How will two-thirds fix broken windows, increase the number of libraries, improve the qualifications and competence of teachers, ensure that parents can assist their children with homework, support teachers who often face hungry, neglected and ill children as well as a broken system with no textbooks?
The public health system has crumbled, with the same number of health workers (250 000) in 2008 as we had in 1997. Numbers actually declined before the antiretroviral (ARV) roll-out programme. The disease burden has substantially increased. Certified TB deaths rose from about 20 000 to 80 000. The population increased from about 42 million to 46 million. Our overwhelming majority of the vote has not translated into improved health services for our people. The ANC has recognised this in prioritising healthcare. Why did we not use our majority to replace the director general of health for these failures? Or, much more than that, replace him for the fact that since the passing of the Public Finance Management Act in 1999 neither the national department of health nor the majority of provinces has had a clean audit.
Safety and security
Safety and security is one of the most pressing problems in our country. Again the ANC has prioritised its realisation. I do not doubt the need for more effective policing, but neither the ANC nor any other political party has a safety and security policy that moves beyond “vang hulle en hang hulle”. Is that why a two-thirds majority is called for—to go back to barbarism instead of progressively tackling the causes of crime?
Do we need a two-thirds majority to have after-school care, including homework support, drama, music and sport for all learners? Evidence from all societies that have used after-school care as a measure to improve the quality of life of children and youth has also demonstrated a dramatic decline in crimes that young people commit, ranging from petty theft and assault to robbery and rape.
Surely, a two-thirds majority is unnecessary to ensure that informal settlements have roads, lights, demarcated plots and safe water?
The arms deal has corrupted more than our party’s politicians, state officials and the businessmen who benefited—it has compromised our Parliament, the NPA, the auditor general, the public protector and it helped establish a culture of impunity among those with political and economic power or influence.
Most importantly, with our parliamentary majority, the ANC defended then president Mbeki, who placed himself outside the law and above the Constitution. Mbeki and the whole Cabinet promoted a corrupt, economically damaging deal with multinational corporations from Britain, Germany and Sweden, among others.
Surely, following the Polokwane recommendations with the Cosatu resolutions and their principled opposition to the arms deal, we can take some action on this. We do not need a two-thirds majority to organise a genuinely independent commission of inquiry with investigative powers to restore confidence in our elected leaders and in our governance institutions.
ANC president comrade Jacob Zuma has promised to get rid of all corrupt, lazy and incompetent officials. He says this task will take 10 years. Section 195 of the Constitution is clear about ethical, professional, accountable, efficient, open and honest government. Do we need a two-thirds majority to implement the Constitution and clean out corruption from public life?
Apart from a handful of courageous people, the two-thirds majority failed to produce resistance to the collective madness of Mbeki’s HIV policy between 1999 and 2006. Then the bubble finally burst in Toronto at the government’s vegetable stall. Denialism is now dead, but not its effects. Access to ARVs and the promotion of criminal behaviour such as that of Matthias Rath were not the only issues in the struggle against denialism.
What about Naledi Pandor, who refuses to make condoms available in our secondary schools? Is she immune to evidence that every public school will have an educator, learner or support staff member who has HIV? Or what about the leader of the split, Mosiuoa Lekota, who refused to employ or deploy members of the SANDF with HIV until the courts told him to do so?
Just to ensure a two-thirds majority, the darling of the Mbeki administration—Manto Tshabalala-Msimang—still makes it into the top 30 of our party’s list. And is she to be rewarded with a new “Ministry of Women”? Am I in Wonderland, or do we intend to use our majority as a “changed” ANC to give the person responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women that position?
In fact, we don’t need a two-thirds majority to apologise, as we should do, and hold a commission of inquiry to uncover why we all stood by while more than 900 people a day died.
Global minimum and fair labour standards are surely achievable without a two-thirds majority. Such a position, and such a campaign, will galvanise the majority of working people and the middle class. This is not true only for clothing, textile and manufacturing jobs. Accountants, computer programmers, managers (whose livelihoods are also threatened by outsourcing) can be won to such a campaign for solidarity with the workers of China, India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and other countries where people are paid starvation wages.
This is not only a question of solidarity, it is necessary to demand a level field for all poor people to access decent jobs. Instead, at the behest of multinational corporations, we compete against one another to see who can achieve the lowest standard of living and the shortest and most undignified life. There can be no sustainable growth without fair trade, fair labour practices and accountable corporate governance globally.
Can’t the trade unions lead such a campaign on a sustained and persistent basis with facts and rational argument—or does anyone suggest it can be done only when the alliance has won a two-thirds majority?
I can think of many reasons why the ANC—the party I endorse in the 2009 election—should humble itself and beg the electorate simply to give us their votes, not proclaim that we need a two-thirds majority to do our job.
I endorse the party to fight inside it for a commission of inquiry with investigative powers to examine the arms deal; to campaign inside the party for a truth and reconciliation commission on HIV/Aids; to demand an open, accountable and ethical public service that puts people first. In the ANC, and with my vote, I will also demand a genuine safety and security programme and a policy and campaign to realise fair trade, fair labour practices and corporate accountability globally.
With this endorsement and vote, I will return to be an active member, to work with progressive cadres to restore party democracy, to achieve social justice, freedom and the rule of law.