Charles Cilliers
Journalist
5 minute read
6 Sep 2021
7:05 pm

Why I’m relieved the IEC saved the ANC, even though it doesn’t deserve it

Charles Cilliers

The truth is that if South Africa wants to be free of the ANC, it's going to have to do more than hope the ruling party just gets rid of itself as an accidental favour to the rest of us.

The ANC declared R10.7 million in donations. Picture: Gallo Images

A few days ago, I was telling some friends and family that not only was I willing to bet the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) would reopen the candidate registration window for the ANC, I was actually hoping it would.

Due to the fact that they had not been in a coma for the past three decades, they said: “Come again?”

After all, here was a black, green and golden opportunity for the ANC to lose power in numerous councils without a single vote being cast, and the “not-so-ruling-anymore party” would have only had themselves to blame.

I wasn’t blind to the karmic charms of the idea.

I also knew that this may have been a chance for the electorate to see that their towns and cities might even get better with someone else in charge, even though the trouble with that idea is that we’ve seen how squabble-driven coalition governance has not been a great success over the past five years either.

So as much as those of us who follow commissions and read investigative reports would like to believe differently, the ANC still has a lot of support. It is a powerful brand, and the people who wield its colours today (rather undeservingly, depending on how you look at it) benefit from its 109-year history of opposing colonialism and apartheid and ultimately emerging as the great hope of democracy for the majority of our people.

The ANC has not lived up to all those great expectations, but people can still at least look around and notice that they don’t have to stand in queues according to race, and they are allowed to access any public beach and toilet. In short, they are not treated like foreigners in the land of their birth and they still credit the ANC – rightly or wrongly – with giving them that.

I also realise that many ANC supporters, even though they are often still poor and jobless in a sluggish economy defined by inequality, still place their faith in the ANC.

It will take more than just the past 27 years, it seems, for these voters to seek an alternative. And it is still difficult to identify which other party is actually rising to the challenge of competing for a share of the majority’s vote. The EFF is far too extreme, the DA has obviously all but given up on black support and other parties remain relatively small – so the wait for a challenger to rise up on the political horizon will continue.

And in the absence of political change from the grassroots up, it won’t be a good thing for the electorate to not be able to choose the ANC on their ballot papers.

As we saw in 2016 when there was a drop in support for the ANC – supposedly due to all the scandals surrounding Jacob Zuma and the Guptas – the ANC’s voters who didn’t vote for the EFF or take a chance on the DA mostly didn’t vote at all.

More of them came out in 2019 due to all the Ramaphoria, and analyses of recent by-elections have suggested that the ANC may even be regaining support – as mind-boggling as that might seem to those of us who are just so exhausted by all the relentless stories of corruption and theft, abuse of power and absence of service delivery.

Of course I look forward to the day when our democracy matures to the point that we are no longer a one-party state; and I don’t want the ANC’s grip on power to continue unchecked. It’s hurt not just the nation, it hasn’t done the ANC much good either.

The ANC has never had to face the genuine, imminent threat of being kicked to the curb for good. That is why it has been so bad at “self-correcting”. You’re more likely to behave yourself at school if you know you can really be expelled.

Even though I’d love to see them take a much-deserved wake-up klap, there’s always a bigger picture to consider, and we saw in July what happened when the supporters of Jacob Zuma felt a bit piqued at the idea that their hero had been sent to jail.

What did we think would happen when even more of the ANC’s most die-hard supporters were set to rock up at polling stations only to find they could not vote for their party?

Call me overdramatic if you will, but I had more than an inkling that we were going to see voting stations burn. I’m not saying that would have been right or justified, but it would probably still have happened and could have been just another thing to add to the growing list of ways the ANC has let the country down.

It wouldn’t have been the IEC’s fault; it would have been thanks to all those bumbling half-arses at Luthuli House who couldn’t even compile a few lists of names and ID numbers on time. The most laughable part of them not submitting many of their proportional representation lists on time was that they could have put anyone’s names on those lists just to get them in on time, and then rearranged who was in or out later (because parties are allowed to do that).

But they couldn’t even get that right.

In truth, the almost certain repeat of all the July terrorism we would have faced yet again in October was not the main reason I was hoping the IEC would reopen the candidate process.

It was that I wanted the day when the ANC loses power to be driven, quite simply, by the will of the people.

Not because the dog ate their PR lists.