The Sunday News
South Africa has held a successful election by any standards of democracy, save for some instances where the Independent Electoral Commission seeks to investigate.
A poll by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) in December 2018 predicted that based on a 69 percent voter turnout, the ANC would end up with 59 percent of votes cast, the DA 22 percent and the EFF 10 percent and so far the results are pointing to more or less of exactly that.
The results are pointing to an obvious feat, the continuous reign of nationalism in Africa and the incessant limping follow of liberal democratic parties — Africa is not ready for that, at least for now.
Be that as it may, the election in South Africa intrigues an interesting discourse on the appearance of democracy, elections and political parties in Africa, particularly in Southern Africa where opposition parties are habitually failing to achieve what they have envisaged for a very long time- to be in power.
Well below 60 percent mark for ANC is not pleasing, but not surprising at all given the emerging pattern of that the ANC won 62 percent of the vote in 2014’s parliamentary election, down from 2009 and far short of its best result, 69 percent in 2004 under Thabo Mbeki. The party lost further ground in municipal elections in 2016, ceding control of key cities to the Democratic Alliance (DA). On another notch, ANC went into these elections with a huge dent, a mound of troubles ranging from escalating unemployment, State capture, corruption and internal party squabbles. Actually a 59 percent score is impressive by standards of political survival, however, a huge lesson to be drawn from.
In that lieu, following Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections, South African experiences inform an important discourse of elections which African countries can vastly learn from. Evidently, elections constitute an important element in a country that regards itself a democracy. There are a viable means of ensuring the orderly process of leadership succession and change and an instrument of political authority and legitimation.
The smooth progress and political plurality in South Africa unravel that both the structure and process of elections, the former being the organisational infrastructure for managing elections and the latter, the precepts and procedures of elections, remain largely perverted.
Notably, cases of electoral fraud were flagged in isolated cases which some spaces of electoral analysis cast out as insignificant variables that can warrant discarding the election. Ironically, those seeking to challenge the outcome are nowhere near statistical significance, but in a democracy, the minority voice is equally important and should be protected, hence South Africa, as a mature democracy should not mute those dissenting voices, however illogical their assertions are.
The challenge by the “smaller” parties point to the political science submission that “elections in their current form in most African states appear to be a fading shadow of democracy, endangering the fragile democratic project itself.”
What has become a trend in African politics is that opposition parties always challenge election results, in some instances manufacturing their own realities and conspiracies on how the election was stolen. Here in Zimbabwe in 2018 we were told of ink that migrates specifically from MDC-A to Zanu-PF, fed to ample and tangible evidence of vote rigging that was never there. Sadly, the same script is seen in South Africa, gladly it is not Julius Malema (yet) bringing up the conspiracy. However, such situations point out the need to establish more and undoubtedly credible institutions of managing elections.
What should be noted is that whether an election is a source of peaceful change or a cause of serious instability, it mainly depends on the character, competence and composition of its managing institutions.
Institutions such as the electoral commission ought to be independent, competent and perceived as completely fair by all the candidates and parties participating in the electoral process. Furthermore, the electoral commission’s standing will depend on its ability, including resources and real legal prerogative, to impartially handle election-related complaints and effectively redress irregularities, thus effectively facilitating the resolution of a 2007 Kenya-like electoral dispute which can easily speed out of control. Only in this way, can electoral commissions build the confidence of the electorate and political parties alike which is essential to generate a credible electoral process. However, in Africa’s nascent and fragile democracies, the responsibility for elections is usually conferred to an institution which some argue it not properly insulated from political pressure of political forces — something that should be plugged and polished everywhere in Africa.
Regarded as “smaller” parties in SA, and some in their social media rooted-yet-ballot-not-transformative politics remain important examples of bad approaches to identifying and appealing to the electorate. In December 2018, the institute of Race Relations had stressed that 6 million South Africans under 30 years of age and eligible to vote have not registered as voters, while youth is the core support group of the EFF. What Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance banked on is no dissimilar from the Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance. They all assume that social media likes, follows and comment translate to electoral registration and voting.
While opposition parties spend their time using disruptive media to debate and converse with many “ghost” accounts, nationalist parties interact with the religious human voter in the exact locations they know are found.
Opposition parties indulge in what I call “smart” or “green” politics (similar to green energy idea) which has no returns on election day. It does not pay because their social media audience does not register to vote and its understanding of politics is seemingly limited hence choices easily change when they are faced with the ballot.
More over the greater population of that demographic is not interactive of Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, they are busy in the farms in peripheries of the cities.
What should be learnt from all this is that the founding pillars of any democratic political system, whether considered fragile or established, remain undoubtedly elections which can simply be taken as the most critical and visible means through which all citizens can peacefully choose or remove their leaders, and which are evidently costly affairs. In other words, elections are the principal instruments that “compel or encourage the policy-makers to pay attention to citizens”.