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Mondli Makhanya | The day democracy was stabbed in the belly – News24

Friday, 05 November
04 Nov
Mondli Makhanya 

Since Monday stories have abounded about how eager voters on their way to polling stations walked past yards filled with family members quaffing beers, lounging in taverns and picnicking at parks.
This was and will always be THE story of this year’s local government elections. The date November 1 2021 will for long be remembered as the day the people stayed away, the day citizens effectively revolted against the democratic process and made their distrust of the political system known.
READ: Youngsters in Soweto enjoy their day off but avoid the polls
While some took to the streets burning things, barricading roads and even tearing down the Independent Electoral Commission of SA’s marquees, the majority of the rejectionists just treated the day as the end of a well-deserved long weekend.
It is not a life-threatening wound at this point. But if it is allowed to bleed, it could become seriously problematic for the patient’s health.
The chattering classes may well blame the foolishness and ignorance of those who stayed at home instead of using their votes to punish the incumbent governments and councils.
The truth, however, is that those who stayed away were making a statement that they have little or no faith in the ability of the political set-up to improve their circumstances. It is a rather sad indictment on a democracy that we believed had reached a certain level of maturity.
READ: Setumo Stone | Is SA a failed state yet?
So who is to blame for this state of affairs?
The main culprit has to be the ANC. In the past decade or so ANC-run local governments have gone out of their way to deprive communities of basic services such as electricity, water, sanitation and navigable roads.
Whereas the ANC loves to boast about its role in the massive post-1994 electrification project – one of the most comprehensive the world has seen – and the installation of potable water to millions who didn’t have basic amenities before democracy, the party now treats access to these as a privilege and a favour rather than a right.
READ: ‘What difference will it make if we do not go out to vote?’ Soweto residents vote, even without electricity
For suburbanites two to four hours of Eskom load-shedding is a mini-catastrophe. In the townships however, random blackouts that have nothing to do with generation breakdowns at Kusile, Hendrina or any of the power stations last for days, weeks and even months. Some communities have not had power for years. In many areas where power supply is “stable”, residents have resigned themselves to the fact that it will be intermittent.
The same goes for water.
Yet in poor neighbourhoods residents are subjected to the indignity of having no water for months and even years.
The stop-gap measure of providing water tankers, something that should be done in emergencies, has now been made a permanent feature by many municipalities. Needless to say, the comrade tenderpreneurs go to bed with full stomachs and broad smiles as a result of this godsend.
One can go into many other areas of service delivery where incompetence and crookedness of the governing party’s deployees in the political and administrative realm has placed millions of South Africans in the second class tier.
Uncaring government and weak, clownish opposition adds to voter disillusionment
What has made the situation even more egregious is the now built-in and uncaring and non-responsiveness of those in office. It is this attitude that propels communities to violent protests in the belief that non-democratic means of voicing their grievances is the way to go.
They have now taken it a step further and said they do not recognise the process that puts the authorities in office.
The DA, as the second biggest party and the official opposition in Parliament and most provincial legislatures, has contributed to this disillusionment of voters by turning away from the majority.
Up until 2009, the DA had a stated goal of building itself as a viable governing alternative to the ANC. It was a tall order because its history, primary complexion and stances around transformative measures, made it highly unattractive to the majority of the population.
Nonetheless the DA forged on with trying to project an image of being the custodian of South Africa’s non-racial future. The early fruits of this project were there for all to see in the 2016 local government elections when the party made decent inroads into the ANC’s traditional support base. But then the reality of this future started to scare the party’s mandarins.

The answer was to retreat into the laager, using the cover of a less than stellar performance in the 2019 general election when the party shed verkrampte voters.
This should have been a welcome development for the party of liberalism but instead it chose to chase after them at the risk of making itself more relevant to South Africans who embrace a common future.
READ: DA proud to win uMngeni – its first municipality in KZN
By doing this the DA took itself off the menu for those black people who sought a voice to articulate their aspirations, needs and grievances. It chose to defy logic and become the political home of a white minority, even as the bulk of that white minority had embraced the party’s mantra of it being a home to all South Africans.
By the looks of things it is failing in this regard as some of its traditional base seek more inclusive political homes that speak hope rather than the fear that the DA now trades on.
The country’s third biggest party has become a carnival of lies, recklessness and buffoonery. The EFF started off as a militant organisation that was going to shake up the political space.
The fact that its policies were extreme and unworkable was fine. In an environment where it had to differentiate itself from the governing party that it had broken away from, some faux radicalism was allowed. Even its brash, no-rules-respected parliamentary style was tolerated by South Africans who were tired of seeing the national legislature being abused by the ANC.

However, the EFF’s regression into a haven for hooligans, its leadership’s hypocritical lifestyles and the mimicking of the ANC’s worst wayward habits, has shorn off its lustre.
READ: ‘Remember Cyril the devil, on November 1’ Malema tells EFF supporters
The poor, with whom the EFF’s message should resonate, are now seeing the party as boorish loudmouths carrying empty promises.
The party may still be able to pull off gigantic marches and draw big crowds to rallies but the ballot box is not reflective of the spectacular shows of mass power. Having moved into the double digits, the EFF’s support is stuck at just north of 10%.
As for the other established parties, the word pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe them. Bantu Holomisa’s Eastern Cape-centric United Democratic Movement is hardly even trying to take risks by doing a “shot left” and exploring the rest of the country.
The African Christian Democratic Party is more concerned about its leaders’s hair loss (which has forced him to abandon his greasy perms) than electoral growth while the Inkatha Freedom Party and Freedom Front Plus are content with shoring up their ethnic bases.
The only exciting stories of this election were the surge in the Patriotic Alliance’s (PA) support, the strong start to the electoral life of ActionSA and the emergence of community based movements that bit chunks off the big guys’ lunches.
While the PA has kept the communities it targets interested in politics, its accentuation of the coloured grievance is very unhealthy. It remains to be seen whether ActionSA will sustain its blistering pace and whether it can define an identity beyond that of its leader.
READ: Mashaba will not call the ANC, not even in 300 years, as he rejects coalition approaches
The citizens’ movements are a welcome addition to our political sphere and, if they cease to be ragtag, could provide some cures to community disillusionment with democracy.
The challenge now is what the major parties, civil society and all South Africans who care for the durability of our democracy, do to restore people’s faith in politics ahead of the 2024 general election.
The legitimacy of the men and women who will be running the local municipalities for the next five years has already been imperilled by this weak’s dismal voter turnout.
The last thing we need is for the same fate to befall the other spheres. That will be a massive setback for this democracy.


Mondli Makhanya 

Editor in chief

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[email protected]
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