What SA’s electorate is made of

I am all Gupta'd out. The past week had South African media in a frenzy over a wedding, a private plane, a national military airbase and a strong case of ministerial he-said-she-said. Denial and deflection have been the rules of this somewhat familiar game of politics. South Africa, it would seem, has become the setting of a poorly written work of fiction.

The reality is less enchanting. Next year is a general election year. It will also be the 20th anniversary since South Africa had its first democratic elections which occurred on that fateful day of April 27 1994. I was only 11 years old at the time, seven years shy of an official first vote, but I remember the excitement of that day.

The majority of the South African population overcame years of oppression and finally got the opportunity to choose their own representatives in government, and in so doing, determine the direction that this country was to take. The ANC came out as the ruling party from those elections, a victory which was overwhelming in its symbolism.

Fast forward to the present day. Three democratically elected presidents later and the ANC is still in power, but there is something very different this time around. The Mandela days of inexplicable hope and optimism are gone and so too are the Mbeki days of poetry and intellectual abjuration amidst the inspirational talks of a continental renaissance. 

We are now living in the days of President Jacob Zuma, the era of the cadre who seems far more selfish than he does selfless. Scandal has made up the most notable characteristics of these last few months, including Nkandla, Marikana, the Central African Republic and  the latest – Guptagate. Through all of these scandals the leadership of the ruling party has been taken to task but nothing much has come of it.


So what effect will all of this will have on the ruling party's grip on power? Will the shenanigans that have occurred under Zuma's watch cost the ANC the comforts that it, and he, have become so accustomed to? I would hazard to say that the the brief answer is that time – and the collective memory of South Africans – will tell when the country takes to the polls next year.

It is worth mentioning that next year's elections will be the first in which young South Africans born in 1994 get to vote. The influence of born-frees will be interesting to see. Will the ruling party ensnare them with its usual rhetoric and political jingles? Will they offer something else, and are they capable of delivering on these promises?

The born-frees are, however, not the only group that the ruling party should be concerned about. The poor and working class should give the ANC many sleepless nights; Marikana remains a significant blight on the social fabric of South Africa and regardless of how government tries to spin it, it won't be going away anytime soon. The growing black middle class is an important group to bear in mind after recent reports suggested it was the driving force behind South Africa's economic growth.

Personally, I cannot help but wonder if opposition parties will take advantage of these realities or if we will end up with a disillusioned electorate who refrains from voting.

That said, I'd add that the ruling party can no longer afford to be cavalier about its dereliction of duty. Should we acknowledge that 19 years is not enough to undo the system of apartheid and colonialism before it? Yes, but certainly we can agree that where excellence could have been achieved, it should have. The case cannot simply be that among the things that government delivers on most, excuses and scandals rank higher than services and solutions.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

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Mpho Moshe Matheolane
Mpho Moshe Matheolane is a Motswana from the little town of Mahikeng. He is a budding academic, researcher and writer with interests in art, history, semiotics and law. He sits on the Constitutional Court Artworks Committee – a clear case of serendipity – and is a firm believer in the power of an informed and active citizenry.
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