By crafting a constitution that guarantees citizens a range of freedoms, including freedom of association and that of movement, South Africans sought to build a democratic brand that distinguishes itself from the world’s rogue democracies.
The rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution are not an end but a means to a just, prosperous and equal society.
For example, unlike in other countries where citizens are imprisoned for merely identifying with certain political organisations, South Africans have the freedom to associate with a political party of their choice.
Accompanying the right to join political parties of their choice is the freedom to form political parties.
During last year’s municipal elections there were 1 181 political parties which registered with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to contest the polls — confirmation that citizens are indeed exercising their democratic rights as enshrined in the Constitution.
Having said that, it would be naïve to ignore developments which since the advent of our democracy in 1994, appear to have put these hard-won rights and freedoms at risk.
Greed highlighted by politicians’ quest to grab government power at all costs has become a major threat to the right of citizens to belong to a political party of their choice. Through schemes camouflaged as coalition arrangements, SA political parties are now able to deprive voters of the right to belong to a political party with which they share the same beliefs and values.
Political parties — during electioneering and in a ploy to deceive the unsuspecting voters — do everything in their power to present themselves as being different to their rivals, but soon after the elections they find an excuse to enter into alliances with the very same rival parties.
The sole objective being that once these alliances have been consummated, the political parties are able to govern municipalities jointly.
Unlike in other countries where political parties form alliances based on policies, values and principles, these important issues are thrown out of the window when South Africa’s unholy political alliances are being forged.
For example, how does one justify an alliance between the DA — a political party which is viciously opposed to the land expropriation policy — and the EFF, an organisation whose brand is built around support for land expropriation.
There is no doubt that citizens who join the DA also happen to despise the EFF, and vice versa.
However, because the leaders of these two political parties find it difficult to resist the temptation to control municipal purses, they are prepared to turn a blind eye to everything important.
To make things worse, these political parties are even prepared to purge loyal members who point out the irrationality of the partnership.
In the Okhahlamba District Municipality in Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal, the ANC recently fired two of its councillors after they refused to support the current mayor, Vikizitha Mlotshwa, who is a member of a rival party — the African People’s Movement (Apemo) — which is governing the municipality through a coalition with the ANC.
The two ANC councillors were part of a group of councillors in the municipality who wanted Mlotshwa to be removed after corruption allegations were levelled against him.
However, the ANC KZN leaders known for using every platform available to denounce corruption, did not only want Mlotshwa to be defended at all costs, but they were also prepared to sacrifice their own party comrades to save a leader of a rival party.
This ANC leadership declared its undying love for Mlotshwa, who is also Apemo’s founder, even though his political party is behind the controversial Ingonyama Trust practice of reducing entire KwaZulu-Natal rural communities to tenants as opposed to being title-deed holders of the properties in which they reside.
To the contrary, the ANC’s policies are in favour of the empowerment of rural communities through, among other things, the transfer of land to them.
In the Johannesburg Metro, the IFP — which is co-governing several KZN hung municipalities with the EFF — not only suspended seven of its councillors who were opposed to an EFF candidate, it also disbanded its entire Gauteng provincial executive committee for putting the EFF/IFP coalition at risk by voting against the EFF in Johannesburg.
This is even though the EFF is currently waging a struggle for the country’s borders to be opened for all residents of the African continent — a position which the IFP is opposed to.
It should be of concern to citizens that the IFP’s leadership is willing to please the EFF at the expense of the IFP’s loyal members.
In forcing members to embrace a political party whose beliefs fly in the face of their own, political parties that enter into coalitions should realise that in essence they are depriving their own members of the right to associate with political parties of their choice.
While coalitions have been an important part of our local government system, particularly in instances where elections have not produced an outright winner, they should not be done in a way that suggests to the voter that the policies and manifesto of political parties are nothing more than a smokescreen designed to deceive citizens.
Surely, if one chooses fish but ends up with an orange, then such a person cannot be deemed to have exercised the right to choose.
• Clive Ndou is political editor of The Witness.