Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Sunday, 22 January 2017


noun - a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds made by politicians at election time

The oftentimes ridiculous bleating of politicians prompted my wife to ask “Does anything good ever come out of politics?” Offhand, I couldn’t think of anything, so it was one of those very rare occasions, according to her, where I was left speechless.

Unsurprisingly, political noise levels are again rising rapidly, and will no doubt reach a crescendo in December this year when we will know who is to be South Africa’s next president. This alone is enough incentive for me to rediscover my voice.

While there are a good number of people hoping, and some actually believing, that we will soon see an end to ANC misrule, a look at previous election results indicates that they will almost certainly retain a majority of seats in Parliament in 2019.

The hope and belief that change is imminent stems from a perception that opposition parties, the DA and EFF in particular, are rapidly gaining support, while the ANC is rapidly losing support.

Using voter turnout numbers for 2014 National and 2016 Local Government elections as the benchmark for today’s optimism, we are told that:
  • DA support increased from 21.9% in the 2014 National elections, to 26.8% just two years later in the Local Government elections.
  •  The EFF debuted in 2014 with an initial 6.3% following, rising to 8.1% in 2016.
  •  ANC support on the other hand dropped from 61.3% in the 2014 to 53.3% in 2016, so they are now on the brink of losing their majority in 2019.
The facts of the matter are that when trumpeting electoral “gains” and “losses”, politicians and mainstream media are misdirecting us.

With the exception of a recent and very eloquent report written by Gareth van Onselen that touches on this subject, I claim it is misdirection because neither politicians, nor the majority of mainstream media, make reference to the electoral anomaly of voter turnout differences between the National/Provincial elections, and Local Government elections. 

To understand this particular dynamic of our flawed electoral system, take a look at voting statistics since the advent of our democracy.

Apart from 1994, where the excitement of the majority being able to vote for the first time ensured a 99% turnout of registered voters, all other alternating elections have settled into much the same pattern.
  NATIONAL/PROVINCIAL                                                                                   LOCAL GOV.

19 726 610
19 533 498

17 782 694
8 675 567
18 172 751
16 228 462

18 511 975
8 752 223
20 674 926
15 863 558

21 054 957
9 857 074
23 181 997
17 919 966

23 139 142
13 353 987
25 388 082
18 654 772

26 333 353
14 959 033

The first high-level pattern is very obvious – fewer people bother to vote in Local Government elections than in National/Provincial elections. This reflects in the sorry state of Local Government where corruption, financial mismanagement, and political ineptitude are spawned by a systemic lack of direct political accountability.
The second noticeable pattern is that voter turnout rises, albeit slightly, when a change of National President is involved. Thabo Mbeki’s first National election had a still-healthy 89.3% turnout that declined to 76.7% for his second term. Similarly, but less dramatically, an increase to 77.3% turnout for Jacob Zuma the first time around, dropped to 73.5% for his second term.

If they choose wisely, a new ANC presidential candidate for 2019 hints at an uptick in turnout, which is more advantageous to the ANC than to the opposition.

The third, perhaps less obvious but more alarming pattern, is that the number of registered voters failing to vote in National elections (26.5% in 2014) has become the fastest growing “political” sector in South Africa.

The registered voter versus turnout anomaly cannot be ignored when evaluating so-called political “gains” because, as is demonstrated below, genuine reflections of political party performance can only be in comparison to the number of registered voters[1], not voter turnout.

If party support is recalculated using the number of registered voters as the benchmark.
  • DA support stood at 16.1% of registered voters in 2014, declining to 15.2% in 2016;
  • EFF support peaked at 4.6% in both elections; and
  • Support for the ANC dropped from 45% (already a minority government?) in 2014 to 30.3% in 2016.

Relative to the number of registered voters, I believe the EFF will always be, at best, a 5% fringe party.  I also believe that in its present form the DA is approaching its support ceiling. Even if I am only half-right, this means that the current and very real threat to the ANC does not come from the opposition, but rather from those who choose not to vote. These people also pose the most significant threat to the future direction of democracy in South Africa.

If the politically moderate population loses faith with our present version of democracy and stops voting, it opens the door for all sorts of fringe elements to take the gap with populist, divisive, and perhaps even violent rhetoric.

As their grip on power slips further, we can also confidently anticipate an escalation in the already highly populist rhetoric coming out of Lethuli House which, if it hasn’t occurred to you yet, will take their “ideology” ever closer to that of the EFF.

With this in mind, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that coalition governance will automatically include the DA as the controlling partner. The closer ANC and EFF ideologies become, the more likely it is that the ANC will be the coalition partner of choice for the EFF.

I believe that by standing in opposition to the ANC at local government level, the EFF has merely fired a warning shot across the bow of the ANC, to remind them of who might be holding the high cards in the far more important 2019 National/Provincial elections.

In addition, can anyone really see Julius Malema turning down the opportunity to wield significant influence over the ANC as “Kingmaker”, while at the same time being given ANC-style access to state resources? Just asking.....

The Positive Revolution[2]

What we really need is a positive political revolution.
  • A revolution that will bring enforceable political accountability, not just pay lip-service to it.
  • A revolution that places limits on the executive powers of the single individual occupying the Office of the State President.
  • A positive revolution where it will no longer be enough for politicians to gain points through attack or being negative.
  • A positive revolution that will bring people back to the polling stations because their vote really does count.

We have a wonderful, world-renowned Constitution, but that doesn’t mean that we should not be looking at ways to further improve it.    It is in this context that I have previously called for a civil society-led review of the political dispensation contained in the Constitution, nothing more.

The current dispensation assumes ethical leadership and political self-policing, so contains no provision to enforce accountability when politicians, particularly senior politicians, fail to live up to their oath of office.

Nkandlagate, Nenegate, and the State of Capture report by the Public Protector alone, provide more than enough motivation for us to improve our Constitution to correct this oversight.

Whether or not we expect much to change politically after the 2019 National elections, it is still imperative that we rethink the rules under which politicians are allowed to operate. We must have enforceable accountability, with swift and meaningful retribution for any breach of trust.

There are so many civil organisations out there that can, and should be driving this initiative. Will any of them have the courage to step up to the plate?   It will be a hard road to walk, but as Madiba said “It is always impossible until it is done”

[1] There are also large numbers of voting age people who have not even bothered to register, which would make the picture even bleaker.
[2] When the positive revolution takes hold it will no longer be enough for politicians to gain points through attack or being negative. Politicians will be expected to be constructive. (The Positive Revolution – Edward De Bono)

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful. As a people, the first thing we need to overcome is this habit of emotional voting. Race politics is still a big issue in SA. Even in The US, where they just elected a deranged, orange-faced bigot, you could still see a link between Trump's policy and the will of the people. Behind his racist rhetoric, Trump also promises like keeping jobs in the country. Yes, some voted out of hate, but I reckon most voted in the hopes of jobs, healthcare and trade deals etc. In SA, we still vote for "Mandela's party" or the "White party" or the "Anti-Zuma party", regardless of what they promise. We vote on race, emotion and history. When we as move past this state of thinking and vote for parties based on policy and track record, maybe instead of singing and dancing at manifesto's, our politicians might actually propose policies and we might actually vote accordingly.