Africa Report: Focus on South Africa elections

Last week Zim Morning Post Africa Report focused on elections in Malawi.
This week, attention shifts to neighbouring South Africa whose elections will be held on May 8.
A crucial phase in the lifespan of the young South African democracy is on the horizon, in a few days time the citizens of that great land will be expressing themselves through the ballot box. 
  The election campaign trail is in full swing, the voters are having merry go rounds in this market place of ideas – an ideas festival.  Political parties – big and small-young and old are on the move, trying to convince the voters who will cast the ballot on the 8th of May 2019-of course some would be voters are just chopping the money – on election day they will not even bother to vote.    In a bid to encourage as many potential voters, especially first time voters, the Independent Electoral Commission adopted the #X’se South Africa as a way to lure as many voters – especially the young – to the voting booth come 8 May.  8 May will prove whether that strategy worked but most importantly on that day South Africa, which Robert Sobukwe and the PAC preferred to call Azania(good name), will find itself on the crossroads.  Whether to stay with the status quo – the Thuma Mina brigade – or perhaps chart a new path given the multiplicity of alternatives that are available.    Whenever elections are held, especially here in Africa, most political engineers focus on the quantity not quality of elections.  For instance one focuses on how many political parties are contesting as a yardstick of improved democratic space.  It is folly to just focus on how many parties are contesting and ignore the electoral environment such political entities operate under and the process that underpins such an electoral cycle.  It is with this in mind that focus will be put on the quality of the electoral process leading to May 8.    In one of his profound works, ‘Elections Without Democracy :The Menu of Manipulation’, Andreas Schedler provides seven cardinal pre requisites for an effective democratic choice to occur.  In other words what a high quality election should look like.  The chain of democratic choice as it is aptly named lists the seven conditions which are : 1.Empowerment  2.Free Supply  3.Free Demand  4.Inclusion  5.Insulation  6.Integrity  7.Irreversibility  The quality of the impending South African election will therefore be measured using the benchmarks set above , they are the indicators of whether an electoral process guarantees citizens an equal opportunity to decide their future using the ballot box.   
  An electoral process of adorable quality is that in which citizens wield the power to decide their future.    John Pockock in one of his seminal works ‘The Machiavelian Moment’, tells story of a Coloniel named Nathaniel Rich who attacked a proposal to allow poor people to vote.  Rich argued that to do this would be to give undue weight to a few men on whom the poor would be assuredly be dependent.   
Was Rich right?   
This phenomenon is not found in South Africa or Africa alone but has captured the democratic processes in many liberal and even illiberal democracies world over.  The citizen is found wanting, the power to make that choice is taken away by other forces which further their own interest and not the citizens interest.    In South Africa it just takes a few minutes to listen to the ongoing Commission on State Capture proceedings.  Perhaps the most eye opening testimony being that of Agrizzi should be put into the spotlight.  Agrizzi as a former COO of Bosasa chronicled how as an institution they would pay bribes to government ministers and even sometimes upgrade their residences.  Most importantly is his testimony on how Bosasa financed some political party functions in various provinces.  Such damning allegations put into jeopardy citizens ability to wield power.  In the final analysis it would be crystal clear that if a political party can not do away with party-state conflation there would be a risk that the political party would not serve the interests of those common men and women on the streets but the interests of those who fund it.  Thus the balance of forces will no longer reside in the citizens but in the hands of an unaccountable few.  The unaccountable few would use their financial muscle to influence the political party to carry out its own objectives.    The plague of state capture has put a dark shadow on the electoral process-if they could capture a whole state and it’s institutions – what about an election?The answers differ, hope that they will leave us wiser?   
Free Supply   
Schedler defines free supply as the free formation of alternatives. Simply put, elections with choice.  If it is to be a market place, it has to have varieties so that the customer can choose.  A fruit market should have bananas, mangoes, oranges so that the customer may have the freedom to choose but when you find a market place having bananas only then there will be no choice.  The electoral cycle should give voters more options.    South Africa has made much strides to make this a reality.  If a resident in Soweto is not convinced by the ANC that resident has the choice to choose among DA, EFF and a plethora of other choices. This has been one of the achievements post-apartheid South Africa, elections with choice, competitive politics is evident.   
The proportional representation electoral system that South Africa has further cemented elections with choice.  Minority parties such as the Congress of the People or IFP under the leadership of Buthelezi managed to make their voices heard in Parliament.  The noble choice of such an electoral system aides the free formation of alternatives.   
Alternative voices are celebrated not frowned upon in this electoral cycle. What is scrutinized are the ideas which these parties stand for. There is need for worry however if one notes the recent attempts by the Freedom Front Plus to deregister the Black First Land First party based on racial grounds.  It is good to note that despite efforts to limit the choice by the Freedom Front Plus their legal battles seem to hit dead ends.  South Africa should build on this noble trajectory of promoting diversity in its democracy festival.    Free Demand    Citizens should be afforded the opportunity to access plural sources of information.    ‘Unless parties and candidates enjoy free and fair access to the public space, the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box will be little more than the echo of structurally induced ignorance ‘one political pundit argues.    Political parties should have access to the media and when one watches the SABC news there is a fair presentation of alternative voices.  SABC carries out a wrap every night of the events during the campaign trail where it chronicles what each party was doing during the day.  So one would know what Cyril, Julius, Mmusi was doing and this shows a commitment to present plural voices on the national broadcaster.    Furthermore, in order to live up to its ‘independent and impartial’ signature feature SABC has made efforts to initiate, conduct and broadcast live public debates so that the electorate can choose which party to vote for.  Programs such as the Big Debate come into mind, you find your Ndlozis, Mashabas and other representatives of political parties there.  Political parties hence have a platform to share and be scrutinized on party policies, be it EFFs land expropriation without compensation or DAs a job in every home policy.    Despite such efforts some parties still have reservations, days ago the EFF CIC Julius Malema accused SABC of a media black out on its programs.    Social media platforms have also been battlegrounds to lure supporters.  The ANC has deployed a deliberate strategy to utilize the so called ‘social media influences’ be it on Twitter or any other platform.  The Democratic Alliance has utilized Twitter to convey it’s message of building ‘OneSA4All’.  Political parties have utilized these sites in order to appeal to predominantly the middle class who use these applications.   
    The forebears of the now 25 years of freedom recently celebrated on 27 April, the likes of  Robert Sobukwe  Steve Biko  Winnie Mandela  Albertina Sisulu  Walter Sisulu  Nelson Mandela fought for universal suffrage. 
On 27 April 1994 that objective became a reality.   
The South African electoral system has lived up to this expectation and not only that, it has improved to the extend that those South Africans who are not resident in South Africa can be able to vote in the various capitals around the world. 
Diaspora vote as some call it.     
27 April 2019 marked the genesis of the voting process as over 29 000 South Africans voted in various cities across the world.    Inclusion reloaded! More should be done in order to convince the electorate – especially the young – to utilize this hard won right.    The statistics from the Independent Electoral Commission show that not so many young people registered to vote.  During an interview a 20 year old woman said that she will not be voting just because no one is appealing to her – maybe Patrice Motsepe she said – was shocked.  Today in South Africa there are communities which are declaring that they will not vote.  It’s tragic that some are choosing to pay lip service to this hard won right – it’s their constitutional right to do so anyway – but much is at stake, including their very future.   
  This is the ability to express preferences freely.  The ballot should be secret.    Not much can be said about this, South Africa has one of the most adorable systems when it comes to the security of the ballot.    The security of the ballot is of paramount importance and the efforts made to make this a reality in South Africa are commendable.    Integrity    This refers to a competent and neutral election body.    The Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa is one of the enviable Commissions on the continent.  The multi stakeholder approach that it has promotes inclusivity and accountability.  Political parties are involved in the electoral process, every step of the way.    Even electoral commissions from other countries go and learn in South Africa on best practices.    The Electoral code of conduct is adorable. Recently the DA  lodged complains after the ANC Secretary General Magashule was filmed giving money to prospective supporters, DA argues it is vote buying.    The Freedom Front Plus recently sought to deregister the Black First Land First party on the basis that it is a black only party.  The Independent Electoral Commission dismissed the application.    The actions of the Electoral Commission indicate a fair referee who is able to impartially adjudicate amongst political players.  Great for democracy!    Irreversibility    Winners must be able to assume power, there should be a smooth transition.  Elections must be decisive ex ante as well as irreversible ex post as Schedler puts it.    Since 1994,there has been smooth transfer of power, be it from Mandela to Mbeki and others who followed.    South Africa has become a Beacon of constitutionalism and has an independent judiciary that can handle any electoral disputes.    After all is said and done, post 8 May, there is high probability that Cyril Ramaphosa will start his first term as elected President of South Africa.  The ANC will gain immensely because of the Ramaphoria spirit in South Africa among other factors but not it’s party list.  The party list is not inspiring at all, indeed most of the people on the list belong to ‘prison not Parliament’.  When one hears sentiments coming from Julius Malema saying EFF would rather have a coalition with ANC post 8 May it shows where the balance of forces are titled towards.  ANC might have a fractured majority but it remains a majority anyway and it will be better than the 2016 municipal elections performance .  The other political parties are advertising their abilities to become effective opposition post 8 May.  The alternative parties have not managed to effectively dismantle the ANC hegemony. 
A logical analysis of the election campaign trail points to ‘phakama Ramaphosa’ come 8 May, other parties will perhaps improve in national performance but will not garner majority.    Will South Africans choose to Build One South Africa for All?  Have Land and Jobs Now?  Grow South Africa?  Come 8 May the majority of South Africans will choose to Grow South Africa.    Wish them well in their impending constitutional dispensation.   
|Liberty Dube is a political scientist and he writes in his own capacity. He can be contacte