Editorial: A mockery of democracy

A bus full of ANC supporters on their way to the party's manifesto launch for the local elections in August 2016. (Delwyn Verasamy M&G)

A bus full of ANC supporters on their way to the party's manifesto launch for the local elections in August 2016. (Delwyn Verasamy M&G)

South African politics seems to get dirtier and dirtier all the time. The picture of what is going on in the run-up to the local government elections in August is ugly. Assassinations are simply the most extreme form of violent contestation, but it ranges from targeted killings to the introduction of chaos into the system of nominations and lists by the sheer number of people trying to clamber into the political process – because it looks like the only way to advance oneself.

The economy is lifeless, unemployment keeps going up, and an example has been set at the highest level of how appointments to political positions are probably the quickest way to fortune in South Africa today.

The problem is partly one of political organisation, in which the ANC, as the governing party and the movement that led South Africa into democracy, has neglected to build and maintain structures on the ground – structures that would allow for more say on the part of branches and less top-down imposition of leadership.
The ANC, for as long as it has been a champion – even in its own mind the embodiment – of “the people”, has largely taken a somewhat authoritarian approach to the masses. This has often allowed, in the ANC’s own language, leadership processes and positions to be captured by opportunists.

The problem is also to do with the failure of the ANC to deepen democracy in South Africa – to find more ways to bring people closer to the processes of power, as conducted by those claiming to represent them. The ANC clings to proportional representation in our voting system, enabling a great deal of manipulation of party lists by competing factions and further alienating the ordinary citizen from democratic processes.

It is also about how much or how little the ANC has delivered as the governing party – and lack of delivery is something people feel at local level in terms of housing, electricity, and other basics. Lack of delivery at the highest level – delivery of political stability and economic development – has a general impact, making everything else harder to get done, every other problem harder to solve. Certainly it makes the problem of nation-building, which is ostensibly one of the ruling party’s projects, all but impossible to deal with.

Local government elections should be part of the process of integration of all South Africans into a living, working democracy – citizens should not simply be spectators at an ugly scrabble for power.

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