/ 14 April 2016

Editorial: Vote to make our democracy work

Danny Jordaan.
Danny Jordaan.

The battle for the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, which we report on this week, foreshadows the battles we will see in the local-government elections due to climax on August 3. Many more wards are up for grabs, or will appear to be winnable by opposition parties, than ever before. Their support has grown since the last poll, as the ANC’s appears to decline.

Such developments are good for democracy: more parties, more contestation. The Mail & Guardian has long said that the ANC is unlikely to improve its record in governance and service delivery until it feels the bite of electoral losses. That is how democracy works.

The M&G was bitterly criticised by the ANC, at the time of the 2014 general election, for recommending that voters vote for anyone but the ANC. This, we argued, would be the best way to put pressure on the party to improve its performance. And, certainly, the ANC’s Gauteng leadership, threatened in 2014 by a possible loss of the metro to the Democratic Alliance, has upped its game since then; it is now unquestionably the most progressive of the ANC’s provincial leaderships. The danger of losing control of key areas drives the governing party to do better.

This weekend, the ANC will launch its manifesto for the local-government elections in the area named (in 2011) for its most illustrious son, thus officially kicking off its campaign ahead of August 3. It’s a sentimental option: Nelson Mandela Bay is the biggest metro in the Eastern Cape, the province that is traditionally the party’s heartland. But it’s also necessary for the ANC to launch its manifesto there, because this heartland is now as open to contestation of the ANC’s power as any other region in South Africa. The ANC’s automatic domination of the area, in terms of votes, can no longer be assured.

One smallish example: Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement seized the metro’s ward 30 from the ANC in the last such election, showing a massive (about 40%) jump in support for the UDM since the poll before. It seems clear that this was a protest vote, in the sense that it was a vote against the ANC: many people feel it has become dishonest and no longer has their interests at heart.

All the signs of that change in attitude have been emerging for a while, but the ANC has not been able to do much about it. Shoving in Danny Jordaan as the metro’s mayor, on the strength of his high recognition factor since the 2010 World Cup, may prove to be anything but a magic bullet.

As South Africa moves towards the August 3 poll, there will be sharp, even nasty electoral battles in many places across the country. Hopefully they will not in any way be violent, even if the rhetoric is heated – as it will be. And hopefully the parties will still be able to work together, as they will have to do in post-poll coalition situations. Above all, we must remember: this is our democracy, it’s growing and developing, and we can all help make it work.