This year’s local government elections were described in a number of ways – some called it a referendum on the ANC’s misrule, some called it a ‘vote against corruption’, others said that South Africa is in a state of revolution due to the increased service delivery protests.
Others simply said the ANC’s poor performance was due to dissatisfaction driven by collapsing infrastructure, bad service delivery, economic collapse, high unemployment and protest via absentia vote.
But watching as a politician, I couldn’t help but think that South Africans are taking democracy and service delivery seriously. I was also interested to see how leaders were willing to dirty their hands and make promises on how to improve the lives of our people.
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Whether fulfilled or not, these were an expression of hope and determination to get our political system to work for the ordinary South African and for bettering the lives of ordinary people and the future of our children, which is what we fought for in our liberation struggle.
Political analysts differed in their interpretation of the low voter turnout, with some predicting the demise of the ANC. But they forgot that the sacrifices made by those who voluntarily participated in the struggle were made on behalf of the ordinary people. Even Solomon Mahlangu, an Umkhonto weSizwe soldier who was sent to the gallows, expressed this sacrifice when he said “my blood will nourish the tree of freedom”.
Similar sentiments were expressed indirectly by the different races who gathered at Kliptown to launch the Freedom Charter in 1955 when they unanimously declared “for these freedoms we will fight side by side until we achieve these goals”.
During the campaigns before the 1 November election political leaders promised to provide water, electricity and housing. They promised to fight youth unemployment. They promised to decisively deal with corruption. These are all issues that confront South Africans, particularly the poor majority.
As we start a new term of local government, we are hoping that the many coalition governments that have emerged after the election will focus on these issues. They must fulfil the dreams of our leaders, like Nelson Mandela, Raymond Mhlaba, and Andrew Mlangeni, who fought for freedom and democracy with these basic needs as the ultimate objective.
Even the auditor-general raised the question of basic services in his reports, further warning that if these were not attended to, nobody should claim to represent the people, particularly the poor.
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No government can claim to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people, without satisfying the people’s needs. Their human dignity, which is recognised by our constitution, is attached to these needs.
Not providing water, education, healthcare, and housing undermines their human dignity and is a violation of the constitution.
If the post-election coalitions fail to deliver these services they will face the anger of our people as seen in the numerous protests across our land. People know and have experienced that leaders come and go, but their basic needs always remain.
There is a common view among opinion-makers and within the ANC-led Tripartite Alliance that the ANC has become its own enemy. The party’s troubles are caused by the arrogance of power.
As the saying goes: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Power-hunger and greed have permeated government institutions and all ANC structures, which is why we see the callous acts of corruption and inefficient service delivery.
This election has not only exposed the flaws of the ANC in governance but also the party’s ability to self-correct its wrongs. We can just hope that the newly-introduced requirements for qualifications and skills for deployment to public office will hold as it is the first step towards good governance.
It is my view that political analysts, in their diagnosis, must reflect on the significance of the basic needs of our people as a basis for their dissatisfaction that precipitates protests, low voter turnout or not voting at all. Karl Marx once said if you address these, the people will follow you.
This is what is expected from the ANC, which must prevail as a servant of the people despite the country’s precarious situation made even worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, low growth in the economy, corruption and load-shedding. Our people still have hope that the ANC government will self-correct.
The ANC, as the governing party, must consider the strict adherence to its ‘Through the Eye of the Needle’ document so as to satisfy itself that it deployed the cadre-ship that would represent the party and carry all its values, particularly the one on morality. Any deployee who went through the eye of the needle test would never waste taxpayers’ money or corrupt the public system for individual gains.
Mnyamezeli Booi is a retired ANC MP, former ANC parliamentary party whip and co-founder of the Congress of South African Students. He writes in his personal capacity.