/ 11 April 2014

Kasrils and ANC stalwarts launch spoilt vote campaign

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils.
Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils.

After hinting at the need for a spoilt vote campaign in an interview with the Mail & Guardian last month, former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils is launching one, just three weeks before the country's general elections. 

Kasrils is joined by former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge and a number of ANC veterans.

"A one-time minister and a deputy minister in ANC governments are among a group of former anti-apartheid activists who are backing a campaign calling on voters to come out and vote by either spoiling their ballots or to voting tactically in protest against corruption and current government policies," read a statement released by the group ahead of a press conference at Wits University next week.

Madlala-Routledge famously got the boot in 2007 from former president Thabo Mbeki as deputy health minister, after being vocal about Aids denialism.

The former government figures are among a number of prominent figures endorsing a document titled: "Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote 'NO'," meaning "We are fed up! Wake up!", which will be released at the press conference, according to the statement. 

The group said the statement was critical of the economic policies of both the ANC and the main opposition the DA for supporting a system that has caused such alienation. But it is the ANC that gets the most heat in the statement.

"Many are struggle veterans and most of the signatories have supported the ANC throughout the years since the 1994 transition, but are appealing to the wider range of disillusioned voters," read the statement this week. "The ANC needs to know that it can no longer take for granted its traditional support and we would be failing South Africa and our democracy by not voting."

A number of academics and intellectuals told the M&G in March when the idea of a spoilt campaign was first mooted that there was no real option for left-leaning voters in the country.

"It would have been nice to have a choice like in India, where it says 'none of the above' on their ballots," Rhodes University political lecturer Richard Pithouse told us at the time.

In South Africa the option would have been "a coherent strategy to spoil the votes".

"But you have to get big forces behind it, someone like Numsa or [Ronnie] Kasrils," said University of the Witwatersrand sociology professor Devan Pillay had said previously. "Otherwise it doesn't have much of an impact."

Late timing
Now with Kasrils backing the campaign may take off, however the timing is late and the options for voting against the ANC are few.

Pillay talked of a "temporary vote repository" for this election, until a genuine workers' party possibly emerges to contest the 2019 poll.

"There's a gatvol vote going for the EFF [Economic Freedom Fighters], even though they're very worried about what [party leader Julius] Malema represents," he said. "And some are going for the DA [Democratic Alliance] to give the ANC a fright."

But he finds United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa the most appealing choice for now.

"He's an honest politician, he's got credibility and he's broadly on the left."

Kasrils in March said if a voter couldn't do a purely negative vote, spoiling the ballot was perhaps an answer.

It's an extreme choice, but Kasrils would prefer it to staying away from the ballot box entirely.

It would also set a more interesting course for the next elections, by which time an organised workers' party might have emerged, as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) posits. "That could well provide people with a real future choice."

Polokwane tidal wave
Kasrils is the former MK head of intelligence, former minister of intelligence services and former member of the ANC's national executive committee and the South African Communist Party central committee – dating back to as recently as 2007, when the Polokwane tidal wave swept him to the sidelines. 

He has been vocal about the ruling party's failing, having taken on the self-proclaimed role of agent for change in the ruling party, hoping that "good comrades" in the liberation alliance will heed his advice to stop the rot of corruption from spreading.

The ruling ANC has been scathing of its former leaders who have come out to speak against corruption, particularly the Nkandla scandal involving more than R200-million security upgrades to President Jacob Zuma's private resident in Nkandla.

Vocal critics of the party included Pallo Jordan, current member of the party's national executive committee who has written columns condemning the upgrade, as well as Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.

ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe called Manuel a free agent and dismissed criticism from other former leaders, saying they hadn't done a good job when they were in Cabinet.

The party's vitriolic treatment of concerns from its former leaders may serve to further alienate supporters, and provides a hint of how they will react to the "Vote NO" campaign from its former party faithful.