I have always held a view that voting is in itself an act of history in the post 1994 South Africa because every time electorates go to the polls they do so, or at least ought do so, with an understanding of what it took for every eligible citizen to enjoy the right to participation in the electoral process. Further more in deciding to vote, the electorate charges the political parties of their choice with the responsibility to bring to fruition the tenets of an equitable society as espoused in the constitutional of the republic. In other words improve the material conditions of the voters.
A few elections, whether general or municipal, deep into democratic South Africa, the disparity between the political promises and delivery makes for an uninspiring tale of what was expected with the advent of freedom. It has to be conceded that that isn’t an invalidation of what the governing African National Congress has been able to do in this short period of time. It’s a fair point given the state the country was in when the governing party came into office because, unlike the now defunct National Party, the ANC had a duty to serve all citizens and not just a minority.
On May 18 the country will be going to polls again and be party to a social contract with chosen political parties in an attempt to have their basic needs realized as per the constitution. So, political party bigwigs have once again climbed down from their different and lofty political Mount Olympuses to (re)familiarize themselves, even if temporarily, with the sour stench of waste flowing freely onto fellow citizens’ streets because of unmaintained sewerage systems and listen to pleas of people asking for something to be done with the rats that they are forced to share living spaces with. Or for billing systems to be fixed in their neighbourhoods. Politicians will tell the media how ‘heartbroken’ they are to know that some of their compatriots live in such squalor. They will also urge that their party be voted into office so as to fix this matter as quickly and possible and then give the potential voters a free t-shirts. Deputy editor at the Sunday Independent, Mpumelelo Mkhabela, then a City Press journalist, once penned an interesting piece about how political parties may differ on virtually everything except in their supposed ‘representation’ of poor people. Mkhabela notes that “If the poorest of the poor were to be priced, they would probably be the most expensive people because they are in demand – at least in the political market…When parties put up policies aimed at benefitting the rich, they do so in the name of the poor. The language of the policies is such that the poor appear to come first.” The poorer citizens of the republic are treated as children who can’t think or take decisive decisions without being spoken for by political parties. When parties campaign in the affluent areas of the country, they clearly present policies but when addressing potential voters in lower strata of society they dance and sing their way into their hearts. Why is this, can’t poorer people comprehend policies without music?
The despondency and frustration that has characterized many voters have found expression in what has come to be known as service delivery protests in a plethora of municipalities, it’s indicative of a crisis of sorts and one that adversely affects people at the periphery of the economy, and the spoils that accrue from it. The cadre deployment of the ANC has been chief amongst the reasons for filling crucial posts in the public service with incapacitated personnel all because they hold influence in party structures. Whether or not the president Zuma will sign into law the anti-cadre deployment bill that effectively bars political figures heads of their alliance (with COSATU and SACP) from holding positions in municipalities is yet to be seen and more importantly what will that do for his ambitions to be re-elected at the governing party’s elective conference next year, if ever he wants to be re-elected. There was supposed to be a clear distinction between the pre and post Polokwane ANC but in reality there was little of that. The electorate must use their memory when casting their votes. The Democratic Alliance has been going on about how the Cape Town municipality is the best run but slums like Kanana and open toilet saga in Makhaza, which the courts declared a human rights violation, tell a sordid and different story. Many cabinet ministers, MEC and municipal officials went on shopping sprees for luxurious vehicle during the recession and all we were told was that the ministerial handbook allowed for such extravagance but those politicians were forgetting that such actions were morally inept in light of the fact that the nation was told to tighten its collective belt. What is legally allowable doesn’t always pass the moral test. It’s the memory of these aforementioned events and others, not necessarily bad ones only, on which the electorate must decide to whom electoral mandate is given to next. Parties must be judged on their conduct and not their intentions. The Ficksburg municipality surely didn’t intend to deprive its locals of water and other amenities but it did and that led to Andries Tatane being murdered while he and other residents peacefully marched demanding what’s due to them as per the social contract.
Perhaps a change in the electoral system of South Africa might also result in people’s pleas for their constitutionally guaranteed basics to be provided for. In the current proportional representation system people vote a party and an individual. That effectively means a public office bearer is answerable to the party and not necessarily to a constituency. But the governing party has thus far ignored calls for even a debate on the reform of electoral systems and we have to make do with what we have at our disposal. That essentially means that the citizenry has to be active in attending local meetings that have a direct impact in how their surroundings are being transformed. To be indifferent isn’t a remedy to the problem. It is, in fact, to compound the situation. So, to ascertain the elasticity of your vote requires that you participate in the electoral process. How else will you know the extent to which you vote can go in shaping your desired outcomes?