Violence and corruption make mockery of free and fair elections
The escalating incidents of violence ahead of the local government elections make a mockery of the recent public pledge made by parties to abide by the election rules and ensure that elections are free and fair. The pledge presupposes that leaders of political parties, at all levels of leadership, carry the ultimate responsibility for encouraging peace and tolerance during party campaigning.
It is worrying to hear of acts of violence – even murder – as people scramble for positions on party election lists. The dominant party on the political stage has seen its own members being murdered by other members in such contests. The ANC, as the majority party, should lead the way in terms of not only campaigning for free and fair elections but also by creating an environment in which members compete fairly and peacefully for candidate positions.
At the heart of the problem is not the processes that political parties utilise to elect or appoint election candidates but the quality of people who contest for positions as party candidates. After more than 20 years of democracy, the people of South Africa deserve good quality local government leadership, leadership that would respond effectively to the challenges of service delivery. All political parties should field election candidates fit for leadership at local government level.
Those who aspire to councillor positions should earnestly reflect on their motives for holding such a position in their communities. A public position such as this should not be about self-enrichment but should be about making a contribution to the upliftment of struggling communities. Those who use violence to attain electable positions as candidates for local government have lost sight of the purpose of being a counsellor. It’s about the common good.
Political parties should educate their potential candidates about the real purpose of being a public representative at local government level. We need structures and processes aimed at preparing party candidates to take up the demanding role of being a public representative.
A report on the role of councillors, published by the Centre for Policy Studies 16 years ago, states that councillors are the link between the public and the municipality. In order to perform this role effectively, councillors have the task of ensuring that the public participates in council initiatives. They do this by encouraging the residents to participate in municipal initiatives. Councillors encourage the public to pay their rates; they educate the public on municipal business and part of their job is to facilitate community participation in municipal policy-making.
After completing their educational programme and passing all the tests, including the test of integrity, they may stand for election. This would avoid the current untenable situation, where in some political parties it has been reported that national leadership has imposed election candidates on local communities – thus depriving communities of electing their preferred candidates as counsellors in the coming municipal elections. Such a top-down approach to selection of candidates has been regarded as one of the contributing factors to violent conflict within political parties.
Corruption is also a big threat to a free and fair process in the selection of candidates. The governing party has created an environment in which corruption thrives at all levels of government. This tends to attract people with self-enrichment motives to the position of public representative.
We need to root out corruption, and take a cue from the American statesman who, in his inaugural speech, said (I have modified some words for the South African situation): “To those peoples in the huts and villages and shacks of struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”
Dr Tutu Faleni is a Democratic Alliance Member of the Provincial Legislature in the North West Province. The views expressed here are his own.