Three big political rallies took place over the weekend, as the DA, ANC and EFF embarked on one final campaign push three days before the national elections. Together with other parties, they’re competing for a vote from 26 million registered voters. The turnout at these rallies has been exceedingly positive, despite the dominant and often fear-mongering narrative of a citizenship at war with itself. Noticeably, the number of youths in attendance is encouraging.
Will it translate to them showing up at voting stations? That remains to be seen.
Despite a rising doomsday view among certain South Africans, each successful election that passes is proof, if proof was ever needed, that democracy is working in South Africa. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decide on whom to vote for. Among my friends, we consider these elections to be the most important since 1994 because of their potential to deliver a government of coalitions. The local government elections have given us a glimpse of what that outcome can be like – a cacophony of turmoil.
Conceivably, these elections could turn out to be the most difficult voting decisions for South Africans for many reasons – the most obvious one being that no political party stands out, or has been convincing in its quest for votes.
The ruling alliance has served its purpose and is at risk of collapsing under the weight of its leaders, some of whom are corrupt, unfit to hold public office and are preoccupied with the politics of the stomach.
The current ANC lacks the higher values espoused by the organisation that came into national government power in 1994. In its place rose a cult of personalities intoxicated by money and power. Worse, it has become what philosopher Frantz Fanon succinctly predicted about the post-liberation party: cabalistic and typified by self-serving leadership.
While the DA has the marking of neoliberalism that is yet to clearly articulate its economic and labour policies, concerning for me is how the party has built its message around a criticism of the ANC. This prompts me to wonder: if you take that away, what does it offer?
If the DA’s assumption is that those who are unhappy with parties will automatically find resonance with it, then it has a serious flaw in its approach.
The EFF seems to be determined to carry on with its radicalism, despite sentiments of urban young voters who seek a party that resonates with their immediate challenges – not just their anger. The youth, who make up the majority in our society, don’t have jobs, can’t afford public transport, don’t have access to opportunities and have no money to further their education.
Unless the EFF can connect with the youth on these issues, it will struggle to grow. It will also have to shed the image of a party that is about one man.
Yet, I find myself wondering … besides blaming each other for the country’s social problems and economic regression, what do these parties offer as way of moving the country forward?
All seem ill-suited to tackle South Africa’s elephant in room: an economy that’s stalled. Moreover, their policies are glaringly deficient in solutions and have not indicated capacity to address the underlying inequalities in society. For example, in the last ten years (2008 to 2018), the unemployment rate has increased from 21.5% to almost 28%. Furthermore, the number of people experiencing long-term unemployment increased from 59.4% in Q3: 2008 to 68.8% in Q3: 2018.
None of the three main parties have put forth a persuasive case on how they will solve this or any current problems. For example, in his speech on at the ANC rally on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke in general about creating jobs, but did not once mention what the party’s policies are on long-term unemployment.
The country has 68.8% of people who are at the risk of being permanently detached from the labour market, yet no politician has factored this into their campaign. What this all reflects is, certainly, an impending crisis over the next five and even ten years. But more profound than that, it reflects the inability and detached state of South African political parties to attend to or even put on centre stage critical problems that will become governmental ones. As such, how then can they solve them once they’re an elected government?
Notwithstanding the terrible tendencies of South Africans to bad-mouth their country, its future and our disillusionment with its politics to the passing ears of travellers, we take comfort and pride in a growing and entrenched democracy. It’s possible to have competitive elections that are symbolised by strong opposition parties – however flawed, contradictory and unimpressive they may be. It’s an important development that they can challenge the dominant party or one that assumes it will be in power for a long time.
Now go out and vote!