The author offers a personal assessment of the state of politics in South Africa, just a few months leading to the 2019 national and provincial elections
There has been a state of mayhem, uncertainty and confusion in the politics of the country. Anarchic behaviour has fully prevailed in all nine provinces. Political parties are facing major challenges within and amongst themselves. Power politics is at play with leaders fighting for the control of and ascendancy to strategic positions. Quite recently the judicial system has been playing a referee in the political matters. Many argue that this is the move that is quite regrettable given the “supposedly” maturity of our politics.
Our young democracy has been tested to the greater length. The three major political parties being the African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) continue to dominate our media platforms. The sad part is that as it could be expected that the parties are competing with each other, they are instead wrestling within themselves. Infightings have dominated our political spectrum. It has been quite obvious that the basic needs of our people are sacrificed in a bid to outmanoeuvre each other.
The case in point was the North West Province where the community didn’t have “free” access to health care and when they did there was either no medication or medical personnel, as they were on an over a month National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union strike. The situation is quite unfortunate because at the centre of it all it is about fulfilling the personal interests of those we elected to represent and look after us. It is for this reason that many argue that the tension and rifts are about the politics of the stomach with leaders trying to consolidate their own political survival. Social media have gone viral with memes making mockery of our current state of affairs.
African National Congress
The ruling party has been marred with controversy after controversy. Instead of focusing on delivering on their electoral promises the party is always handling or managing its public relations. The credibility of the party is suffering due to the behaviour of some notable leaders who are either associated with corruption or maladministration, nepotism, favouritism, violence and abuse of power. Recently, the interviews about service delivery have taken a back step as ANC leaders are defending scandals brought about by those who are supposed to lead by example. The infightings within the party are all concerned with leadership positions. Conferences are hijacked by violence, disruptions and interdictions from the courts. The infightings are so robust that one could not even differentiate whether they are just political tensions or major divisions. Political killings are rife especially in KwaZulu-Natal due to this political uncertainty within the party. Given these violent incidents, there is a perception that there is no political tolerance within the movement and that the unity is forced.
Nowadays, ANC members are singing in different tunes. The ideological posture of the party is truly unclear than ever because the party tries so hard to outshine the EFF that they end up just talking about policies and taking public postures without necessarily providing detailed accounts of how, when and where. For instance, former President Zuma announced, to the amazement of many ANC members, that there would be free education. After the announcement no one could give details on how the process would unfold. Also, the ANC in the suburb of Nasrec, Johannesburg has taken a resolution on the land [destitution without compensation] without detailing how. The liberation movement is now learning that it has created its own demons by coming up with great and progressive policies and failing to implement them. The opposition is using their policies to garner support and even take the party’s former loyalists.
The behaviour and personal issues of the likes of Mduduzi Manana are adding to the damage. Currently, many ANC leaders don’t inspire many people. People are disgusted, disappointed and fed up. No one understands how President Ramaphosa saw it fit to retain the likes of Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane and Malusi Gigaba who have dark clouds hanging over their heads. Lots of decisions don’t make sense and only adds to the allegations that the party prioritises factional battles over national interests. This was said to be the case in North West where the people were calling for the immediate removal of the premier and the party took its time to address the matter in what was seen as negotiation with the then premier Supra Mahumapelo while many expected a solid and decisive decision from the ANC.
Economic Freedom Fighters
The party and its leaders have matured to the highest level. Many young people are identifying with the party as it speaks to the issues that are closely related to them. The EFF is seen as hands on party that is genuinely concerned with improving and prioritising the lives of the poor. Many, especially the poor and the marginalised are regarding it as a saviour of the 21st century. The fact that the leaders are young, charismatic and highly qualified is seen as an inspiration to many. The party highlights the importance of education and actually takes a lead at showcasing that the doors of higher learning are for everyone at any given stage. With EFF, many believe that we are introducing a new revolution headed by academics. The leaders continue to send a very strong message by posting their pictures accompanying each other to their graduations. Nowadays, in most times the EFF is in the news when they are dealing with important issues like, for example, recently the EFF’s Commander in Chief was trending making his mark at the Pan African Parliament. Advocate Dali Mpofu, EFF’s National Chairperson, continues to do wonders winning popular cases even for opposition fellows like the Cape Town Mayor.
At the moment, the EFF is seen as more stable, focused, genuine political party. Even on social media the memes that are made about EFF represent positivity, growth and development. Many people are impressed, economic freedom is an ideology that resonates with the majority; the unapologetic character of the leaders is winning hearts of many eligible voters. The EFF is by far the only political party that is clear on what they stand for and have shown that they are willing to deliver and defend their stance by any means necessary. That is the decisive posture that has been lacking in our politics. This is another win for the EFF, definitely something new that the South Africans are not used to.
The party will always be marred with the allegations that one race is preferred over another. Out of the three major political parties in the country, DA is the only political party that have more “white” membership/following. The issue of balanced racial representation poses as the major challenge for the party. Race and class are evidently the problem the party have to urgently and effective address for its growth and sustainability. For instance many suspect that the DA leader Mmusi Maimane is a ceremonial leader having the big “white bosses” pulling strings behind the scenes. The party’s national legislative representation fuels to the allegations. As much as the party has managed to make inroads in the black community, many still treats it with caution. There are still utterances like “I will go for anything but the DA”, “DA is a white people’s party”. The alleged uproar that took place in the party’s caucus against Maimane’s freedom day speech made matters worse.
The Cape Town issue have opened a can of worms for the party. For many people, the assumption that the party is “too good to be true” has been confirmed by the Patricia De Lille (Mayor of Cape Town) saga. Many have argued that the party is selling unrealistic dreams to the voters. The DA has always painted a picture of a South Africa where people live together harmoniously, however what has transpired in Cape Town have proven otherwise. It gave an impression that there are certain people and characters that threaten the party leadership and therefore have to be dealt with at all cost. Many observe that the way the party is dealing with De Lillie is harsh, inhumane and disrespectful to her contribution.
As it stands among these three major parties the DA and the ANC are the problem children. The EFF is thriving on positive publicity without even trying hard. For now the EFF’s future looks very bright. It is seen as the party that wins its battles—holding the executives accountable (paying back the Nkandla money being one of their highlights). Many argue that it is the likes of the EFF that contributed greatly to the growth in political interest in the country. Indeed many allude that we owe it to the chaotic disruptions in the National Assembly that now many people are taking interest in parliament; politics form part of the discussions in taxis, hair salons, restaurants even in unusual places like the toilets and bedrooms. Currently, whether a person is old, young, black, white, man or woman, the moral is high and the standards and expectations are higher.
The upcoming elections will be one of the most fiercely contested. Due to anger and frustration many people will surely participate and some have already taken a stance. With only few months to the polls these political parties have so much work ahead to rally support, work on their issues and give South Africans the competitive and conducive environment to make their choices on the ballots. The Independent Electoral Commission better be prepared and well equipped because it is the readiness, effectiveness of the election body that determines the success of the elections.
In conclusion, if we were to listen to the signal and present Mama [Winnie Mandela] with a South African political report, we would report that at the moment things are not looking good in the ANC and DA camps. I personally foresee the EFF increasing its national and provincial support base. As things stand, a coalition government seems inevitable. We might be heading to our first national coalition government. If things turn out like that, South Africans should prepare and embrace themselves for the government marred by vote of no confidences and threats to withdraw supports. I foresee nothing but the troubled state of political affairs. Some, however, proclaim that this is a necessary step for the maturity of our democracy. I argue that we will only find peace when one political party wins outright majority.
* Bonolo Lovedelia Pelompe is a public servant in South Africa.