There are two massive fictions that loom over next month’s general election. One originates from within the ANC, the other from the Democratic Alliance.
Both hoaxes attempt to prop up the status quo: from the ANC that South Africa is best served if it is the unassailable governing party; and from the DA, that SA scores most if it is the unrivalled official opposition.
The bigger myth is that the best way for voters to indicate their displeasure at the ANC’s quarter-century of incompetence and a decade of brazen criminality is to vote for it.
The smaller myth is that voters opposed to the government should not “waste” their vote on a smaller party, but should rather unite behind the DA, since it alone has the resources to stand up to the ANC.
Let’s start with the latter myth. Ironically, this is a canard that was hung around the neck of the DA’s predecessor, the Progressive Party, in the ’60s and ’70s.
For 13 years, the United Party, the official opposition of the time, managed to contain the Progs to one MP, Helen Suzman, by convincing white voters that it would be a “waste” to split the opposition by supporting a small group that lacked the resources to stand up to the National Party. Far better, went the siren song, to support the UP.
But as Suzman demonstrated, it’s often not about the size of the proverbial dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog.
In any case, there is no such thing as a “wasted” vote in our proportional vote system.
Every vote cast makes a difference in that it adds to a party’s total vote, which directly determines its number of public representatives.
Finally, the small parties exert policy pressure on the big parties. Not many people supporting the Economic Freedom Fighters or the Capitalist Party (ZACP) seriously think either will form a government after the election.
The EFF vote, for example, is essentially a protest vote against the ANC and has been stunningly effective at pushing the government to the left on issues like nationalisation and land expropriation without compensation.
Similarly, a credible performance by the ZACP, at the cost of the DA, would be read by the DA leadership as a protest vote by its traditional supporter base against the erosion of classic liberal values. It would nudge the DA to the right.
Which brings us to the biggest fable, that a vote for the ANC on May 8 will be understood by that party, evenly divided as it is between supporters of former president Jacob Zuma and his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, as an endorsement of the latter.
The simple fact is that Ramaphosa’s fate does not lie with ordinary voters. It lies in the hands of ANC members. And it is an ANC membership that has shown itself perfectly capable of dumping a president, whatever his popularity with the electorate, as happened to Mbeki.
Voters would best ignore the myth-makers in the ANC and DA ranks. In this general election, the first truth is that the best way to dissuade a political party from failed policies is not to vote for it in the hope that it will miraculously blossom under the encouragement. It is rather to punish it with a vote for another party.
The second truth is that under our proportional vote system, your vote counts.
It all adds up.