Punish your misbehaving party
South Africans are creatures of ideology and too afraid to exercise their vote in a meaningful way
We often convince ourselves that South Africa is a one party-dominated state without viable alternatives. It's a myth.
What we don't want to admit is that we are creatures of ideology, unable to differentiate between supporting a particular party and being a voter whose primary task is to hire and fire governments.
Party supporters – the majority of us, it seems – have created and perpetuated this fiction of indestructible political monopoly as a defence mechanism to deal with our frustration. Even when they have stopped believing in the integrity of their party, many supporters still can't bring themselves to punish it at the polls.
Unfortunately, it's often too late when they finally use the power of their vote to express their protest.
They believe the purpose of their vote is to keep their beloved party in power at all costs. They will bewail the party's deviation from its traditional values, but won't vote for another party out of irrational nostalgia and sentimental pride.
You often hear lamentations that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has lost its liberal values by compromising on policies such as affirmative action. But the same critics – the party's supporters – cannot stand the ANC. They are convinced that there is no alternative. Voting for the ANC would be to betray the DA's founding fathers. They would rather not vote than vote for the ANC.
In their mind, their beloved party will one day regain its liberal character. The blind followers of John Locke and JS Mill forget that the party's predecessor, the Democratic Party, lost its classical liberal values as soon as FW de Klerk freed Nelson Mandela and unbanned everything that was previously undesirable to the Nats.
The party initially tried to occupy the middle ground between the two extreme behemoths that were the ANC and the Nats. It eventually substituted for the latter on the centre-right. It now wants to be a liberation movement: its leader Helen Zille produces more revolutionary chants than the late militant ANC Youth League leader Peter Mokaba.
Most DA members are neither liberals nor admirers of Isaiah Berlin. They just want an alternative platform to articulate their political preference, that's all. And if Zille was to apologise to the traditional liberal supporters and restore the so-called values of the party, she'd be another lone Helen (remember Suzman?)
On the other hand, you have the bitterly disgruntled supporters of the ANC, who bemoan the death of their movement and its values. They privately admit that the revolution is gone, but are in perpetual denial.
They have lost their faith in, respect for and loyalty to the ANC. It served its purpose in 1994. But, for sentimental reasons, they can't stand the idea of the DA becoming an alternative ruling party. To them, this would be the worst betrayal of their beliefs.
But they have no idea of how to punish the power gluttons in charge of their beloved movement. They have become prisoners of the revolution, captives of ideology.
They'd rather watch their country fall apart than save it through the ballot box.
What a sad, emotional conflict.
Others protest violently against incompetence and corruption. They'd rather burn down public utilities and render the country ungovernable than punish the ANC at the polls. Crazy lot.
They view the idea of the DA in power as the reversal of freedom. What a political absurdity.
Voting out your party for misbehaving should never be seen as a treacherous act.
But a typical South African supporter – who identifies with a particular party's founding principles (what I call the "isms") – forgets that electoral politics is about power, numbers and marketing.
The voters, on the other hand, shouldn't give a toss about a party's "isms". If their party is too strong and arrogant, they should use their vote to dilute its power or transfer power to the next best alternative.
They should interrogate policy alternatives and not bother themselves with ideological tosh. They should understand that seeking an alternative government is a choice – not a betrayal of some revolutionary dogma.
This is no religion, but a simple exercise of power by voters to choose who must govern them.
A true voter will not listen to those who obfuscate and liars who say, "Vote for us because we brought you water" – as though they can take it away. He or she will understand that water is a fundamental human right and cannot be used as a political campaign tool.
That would be like Nelson Mandela saying: "Vote for me, or else I'll take your freedom back to Robben Island."
If South Africans were proper voters and not nostalgic party supporters, power would change hands more frequently. And the country wouldn't be held hostage by a delinquent party with nothing to offer but its shattered past glory.