Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Where Have All the Voters Gone?

Between August 2016 and November 2017 an additional 9% of the registered electorate stopped voting. You may find this unbelievable, but this is exactly what happened in Metsimaholo Municipality’s November 2017 by-elections. Remember that these encompassed the entire municipality, not just one or two Wards, effectively representing a complete rerun of the August 2016 Local Government election. Apples with apples comparisons are therefore appropriate and very revealing.

I believe Metsimaholo can be viewed as a microcosm of the national electorate’s disposition, because as explained below, if any municipality should have expected a higher turnout than before, it is Metsimaholo.

Without going into too much detail - in 2016 there was no outright winner in the Free State municipality of Mestimaholo, but the DA managed to cobble together a 23 vs 19 coalition “majority” enabling it to take control, albeit for less than 12 months. Internal squabbling saw the coalition unsurprisingly fall apart and having failed to pass the 2017/18 municipal budget, the council was necessarily dissolved. Free State Provincial Government appointed an administrator to oversee operations until by-elections could be held to re-constitute a political order for the municipality.  In these circumstance, shouldn’t we expect more people to turn out to ensure a majority for the party of their choice, thereby helping to alter the previous disastrous outcome?

The reality of these by-elections is that registered voter turnout dropped from 56% in 2016 to 47% in 2017 making the non-voting population the largest constituency at 53% of registered voters. Significantly, as you will see later, the number of voters casting ballots in each of the two elections dropped by a massive 18.5%.

Apples with Apples Analyses
Much has been made of the ANC’s “collapse”, where results superficially suggested an almost 35% drop in support - but what needs to be factored into this equation is that the SACP stood in these by-elections under their own banner for the first time, and not as an ANC alliance supporter. If, for apples with apples comparison, we add the 2017 SACP votes and ANC votes together, the seats won remains the same and in the same configuration. The DA came out worse off with 1 PR seat less (let that sink in for a while), and the EFF remained static:

  • 2016 ANC/SACP alliance: 16 Ward and 3 PR = 19 seats
  • 2017 ANC: 16 Ward and 0 PR + SACP : 3 PR = 19 seats
  • 2016 DA: 5 Ward and 7 PR = 12 seats/2017: 5 Ward and 6 PR = 11 seats
  • 2016/17 EFF: 8 PR seats

A classic example of the adage the more things change, the more they stay the same except for the DA?

Most significantly, both the DA and EFF also received far fewer votes in 2017 than in 2016, so any talk of “improvement” in their performance is disingenuous. They both fared worse than before except perhaps in comparison to each other, which is really no recommendation.

Talking Coalitions
Far from solving the 2016 problem, these by-election results have again produced a most unfavourable outcome, so it is back to the pain of coalition politics for Metsimaholo residents. They have my profound sympathy, particularly as it will require some very strange and fundamentally incompatible bedfellows to take control.

Trying to predict who is going to do what, with whom, and for how much in the Mesimaholo coalition stakes remains a Chinese puzzle until we know the outcome of the ANC’s December National Convention leadership elections.  In my opinion, if Ramaphosa wins the leadership race, the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu will remain intact, but if Dlamini-Zuma wins I believe that at least the SACP and Cosatu will split completely from the ANC, if not also Ramaphosa and his supporters.

As fluid as the situation is, bear with me for a moment while I speculate on the fate of Metsimaholo’s coalition circus. If the ANC/SACP alliance holds together they will have 19 of the 42 available seats, and if the DA/EFF co-operative alliance holds together they will also have 19 of the 42 available seats. Under these conditions, Metsimaholo citizens will again be at the mercy of 4 minority parties that hold 1 proportional seat each, one being awarded to a party that attracted only 405 voters, or less than 0.48% of all registered voters (just saying) - so if you thought we had rid ourselves of minority governance, think again. In this scenario, rational thinking says go straight back into administration and forget the unworkable coalition nonsense.

If the ANC alliance fails because of a Dlamini-Zuma victory in December, an alternative scenario for Metsimaholo is that the DA, EFF and SACP form a coalition that will provide them with a majority of 22 of the 42 available seats. As I already believe that DA/EFF coalitions are a marriage made in hell, adding the SACP to this poisonous cocktail really would mean the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

2019 Indicators
In my opinion, the real message from Metsimaholo is that too many people are choosing not to vote because they have lost faith in the existing party-centric political dispensation, and have come to believe that none of the existing parties are able to deliver their promised “better life for all”. The failure of politicians to entice voters back to the ballot box should send a clear message to their parties that they are on the wrong track, and are missing the point that no matter who is in control, there are too many of them eating our lunch, and not enough them putting food on our table.

One of the party leaders must explain why a voter who can’t afford an airline ticket should be concerned with the plight of SAA? Or why an indigent household which receives free electricity and water should be concerned about the evident corruption at Eskom and the Department of Water Affairs?  Party leaders grandstanding on the so-called “big” issues are missing the biggest issue of all, which is that fewer and fewer people at grassroots level care about, or believe in, anything they say. They are talking to the wrong people about the wrong things.

Scarily, if this downward slide in voter turnout continues into 2019, we are in danger of having a National Government not elected by the will of the majority, but elected by a mobilised minority.  We cannot allow this to happen, so ways must be found to reawaken public enthusiasm for the ballot box. 

I have written before that I think it will take a new political party to break the mould of traditional South African politics. A party that will commit to returning power to the electorate and deliver practical and pragmatic policies defined at a local level, not the present “one size fits all” centralised policies of the established parties.

Makhozi Khoza, leading the new ADeC party, is best positioned to exploit the paradigm shift needed to change our political landscape, but to do this she must shed the mantle of a traditional South African politician, which means she must stop criticising what others have done or cannot do and focus on what can be done, and how to do it.  She mustn’t tell us about how she will fix National problems at a National level, or how corrupt the ANC is, or how extreme the EFF is, she must tell us how she will use National power to change people’s lives at a local level. It would also not hurt her to look at how Emmanuel Macron convinced France to trust his 14 months old party.

If a new party cannot live up to the challenge, then we can only hope that Cyril Ramaphosa wins the December ANC leadership election, dropkicks JZ into touch at the first opportunity, and proceeds to unravel the tangled web of the Captured State that we live in.

A final footnote to this sad tale is that PR seat calculations reveal the ANC were only entitled to 14 seats. This calls into question the veracity of Demarcation Board decisions, and dictates that they revisit the demarcation of Metsimaholo with a degree of urgency to avoid any accusations of gerrymandering.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Holistic Politics

Let’s face it, Jacob Zuma has us right where he wants us – endlessly gnawing on the bones of “State Capture”, while simultaneously fixating us on what his next irrational move might be. How many more leaked emails, articles, books, round-table discussions, international speeches, etc is it going to take before we wake up and realise that he has no intention of going anywhere in the short-term? While we are all bumping our gums with indignation, our country is being decimated by self-serving politicians who are fighting over the carcass of what was once a great liberation movement. We must stop talking, and start taking proactive countermeasures to block this ongoing and systematic destruction of our democracy.

While a main perpetrator, the ANC is not solely responsible for the carnage. Our main opposition parties are to a greater or lesser extent also complicit. Whether it be through the application of double-standards in no-confidence votes, or lack of transparency in party funding that smacks of deliberate concealment by the DA; or the racially divisive and backwards-looking rhetoric being used by the EFF; these parties are also contributing to the growing disillusionment of the electorate, thereby further fanning the flames of distrust for all things political.

The EFF are a particularly clear and present danger to the survival of our fledgling democracy. The fact that they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Great October (Russian) Revolution, that ushered in 74 years of rule by the largest and most violently oppressive regime, points to where their heads are. Legitimate debate in Russia was snuffed out, millions of dissenters were either assassinated or died in the notorious Gulags, and the poor were further marginalised through denialism of the existence of poverty. The additional fact that EFF leadership has made a point of obtaining degrees and doctorates in politics should also be a warning that they are callously playing with the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. In other words, they are fully aware that they are pushing a failed ideology, but continue to do so because they know populism will always find favour with “the masses”.

Equally disturbing in the populist vein - have you noticed how Zupta faction Rapid Economic Transformation rhetoric, and EFF White Monopoly Capital/Nationalisation rhetoric are moving ever closer together? In politically correct language, we are caught in the vicelike grip of “identity politics”, but in real language it is nothing more than blatant race-baiting. Resorting to this form of gutter politics is proof that they are devoid of original ideas, and have no sustainable solutions for the problems facing South Africa.

On the other side of the political divide, the DA is attempting to impersonate the ANC– continually referring to ANC struggle heroes while virtually ignoring their very own heroine, Helen Suzman.  Mmusi Maimane’s naivety is also quite breathtaking. The country is in the hands of a President who has no respect for the Constitution, yet Mmusi is searching disclosure of interest records to see if JZ has perhaps broken the Parliamentary Executive Code of Ethics - viewing the records himself, not delegating to a subordinate or requisitioning the appropriate information, but posing for a photograph with sleeves rolled up. Oh dear!

While it is unsurprising that we are preoccupied with political events unfolding at a national level, an equally pressing issue is the parlous state of provincial and local government. A lack of leadership at all levels has fostered a dangerous form of political anarchy that threatens the foundational fabric of our society.  When looked at holistically, from top to bottom our political system does not promote genuine democracy, but rather feeds into the cadre deployment and patronage networks that are the preferred modus operandi of political party leaders.

A new brand of leadership is needed. One that does not make undeliverable promises, but rather fosters unity through practical and, where necessary, pragmatic policies. Take free tertiary education as an example. Across-the-board free education is presently unaffordable without robbing Peter to pay Paul, so students will only profit at the expense of other equally important government initiatives. Yet it makes practical sense to provide free tertiary education in spheres such as science, engineering, and medicine for example, where we have dire skills shortages. Full subsidisation of TVET colleges is also a given as we are desperately short of artisanal skills. Students of some of the more esoteric subjects will need to pay their own way or, if we really want to offer free tertiary education to everyone, then the number of these students needs to be reduced to affordable levels. Pragmatically, it makes no sense to provide free education in an oversupplied discipline to swathes of people, when their chance of obtaining employment at the end of their degree course ranges between extremely limited, and non-existent. The saddest part of the education debate is that we generally ignore the fundamental cause of our skills shortage, which is an extremely inadequate level of basic education. From crumbling infrastructure that can claim a life of untold potential through drowning in a sea of human excrement, to a lack of proper textbooks, to undertrained and sometimes abusive teachers – the litany of disasters in our system of basic education goes on and on.

The current political order is failing spectacularly to map a sustainable way forward.  If we are to realise our full potential as a nation and genuinely achieve a better life for all, we must find a new leader with the moral strength and physical courage to take on the daunting task of recalibrating our political landscape - someone with the capacity to unite ALL South Africans behind a campaign to rid ourselves of the Zupta parasites and their cronies, and begin the massive task of rebuilding not only the economy, but interracial trust and understanding.  That person is out there somewhere.   We just need to give them sufficient encouragement to feel confident in stepping up and taking the reins of leadership.

The fires of racial division are being stoked by irresponsible politicians in their single-minded quest to seize the levers of power. We need to douse those fires quickly and effectively. To do this we must recognise and accept that a united voice is more powerful than the discordant clamour of disparate outrage that prevails today. The first step is one of introspection. To borrow from John F. Kennedy, we need to ask ourselves “not what our country can do for us, but what can we do for our country”.

Right now, I am politically homeless with a desperate need for somewhere to hang my hat. A place where I can roll up my sleeves, and help to make South Africa work as well as I know it can. That place hasn’t been built yet, but I live in hope that it will be, and soon.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Malusi Gigaba's Mid-term Fudge-it Speech

In my opinion, Malusi Gigaba’s maiden Mid-term Budget Policy speech was primarily geared towards protecting his personal political future.   He laid out in no uncertain terms the depressingly ugly state of our economy, then deferred or postponed taking any long-term remedial action until February 2018.  Why?

Put yourself in his very expensive shoes for a moment, and consider how else could he have approached the subject when he can’t be sure who his boss will be in February 2018?  His best option for self-preservation was to do exactly as he did – factually point out what is wrong and then do nothing other than try to balance the aspirations of the main contenders for ANC presidency, without also upsetting the incumbent.

Think carefully about what Gigaba was attempting to juggle – Zuma might, God forbid, still be President, and he desperately needs nuclear, so Gigaba gives credibility to the nuclear deal with a caveat that it must be affordable, so it was a yes/no commitment.

Dlamini-Zuma promotes non-specific “radical economic transformation” which was given significant traction in the speech, as was Ramaphosa’s “inclusive development” philosophy. Gigaba managed to blend both into being the best way forward – essentially saying we need to radically transform, but we can’t do it alone and need the private sector to drive it - so another yes/no, or no/yes commitment depending upon which way your own perception mop flops.

When, in this same government/business section of his speech Gigaba alluded to “unity” being vital to the way forward, was he referring to public/private co-operation, or was he just opening the door to a future under Zweli Mkhize should he prevail as the ANC’s “unity” candidate in December. Listen carefully to what Gigaba says on the unity issue and how he says it - I have my interpretation, but you might think differently.

Gigaba used a lot of words that alluded to much but promised nothing in a speech that was carefully crafted to protect his own position, obliquely confirming that the internal war raging within the ANC is far from being a fait accompli for any faction. But what does it tell us about Gigaba himself? Is he just another avaricious politician taking the gap, or has he realised the error of his previous ways? As a political cynic I am biased, but even so there is no doubt that Gigaba is an intelligent and articulate politician who could make a positive contribution to the country if he chooses the right path to follow. In this respect were his closing references to predecessors Pravin Gordhan and Trevor Manuel a genuine acclamation of their contributions, or a reminder that they are now history?

As is usual when personal or party politics comes before the people, there is nothing encouraging to be found in the speech. In fact, it has created a level of short-term financial uncertainty that will no doubt result in ratings agency downgrades that will be disastrous for all of us, and devastating for the poorest of us. Meanwhile we are left guessing as to what more damage might be done in the February 2018 budget.

Another disheartening event occurred before Gigaba had a chance to open his mouth. The EFF walked out - again!  When will the EFF and their supporters learn that parliament is not a kindergarten sandpit? They have a responsibility to participate, not just walk away when the going might get tough. They must not only question the personal integrity of Ministers, but also learn to question the integrity of Ministerial policies – they can’t do that if they are not there to listen. The EFF obviously has no imagination, no vision, and no workable alternative proposals, so their standard fall-back position is to grandstand their exit from legitimate proceedings.