So the local government and municipality elections have come and gone. Besides intra-party pre-election violence in Tshwane and some areas of KwaZulu-Natal, the election itself went like clockwork. The Independent Electoral Commission has outdone itself again. I stood in a queue with hundreds of other South Africans of all races for two hours, and we waited for our turn in a dignified manner.
We have become so accustomed to moaning about how terrible things are in this country; about how we are on the way to a banana republic, yet when the signposts on the roadside indicate that we haven’t veered off the main road, we insist on pointing to the speed humps and potholes on the road as evidence that we’re on the wrong road. Which indicators are we using as evidence that the car is no longer on the right road?
Before you get all worked up and start shouting “corruption” let me save you the energy; I’m with you on that one. No amount of waste or theft of public funds must ever be acceptable. We must shout, kick and scream whenever and however that happens. Is it enough though to throw our hands in the air and give up? History has taught us that even those Western democracies we look up to so much have their share of wasted public funds, and this even after hundreds of years of “government by the people for the people”.
When what we admire about those democracies happens here, such as elections taking place when the constitution says they must, we must high-five ourselves and backslap each other as though we’ve just scored a try, because in reality, we have. We know that banana republics have elections when the dictator in charge decides he’s ready to win the next election. And when he doesn’t win, he makes himself win, to the detriment of the whole country.
Another thing that we so admire about so-called mature democracies is that the loser loses, literally. Power changes hands really seamlessly. But we do not accord ourselves the same adulation when we do the same. When David Cameron lost the Brexit referendum, he offered to resign, and did just that. The voting public had spoken, albeit foolishly.
The ruling party here recalled Thabo Mbeki from power in 2008 and people went on as if the end of the world was upon us. No one dared to point out which part of our world-admired constitution had been trampled on. The ruling party had done what was simply its prerogative, to choose a leader they believed would best lead the country when the one they previously had was no longer suitable for them. Hindsight has shown us it was a matter of out of the frying pan, into the fire and we are still living with the consequences. Now the electorate are rebuking the ruling party for insisting on keeping a flawed leader.
Replacing Mbeki with Zuma was democracy in action, and the ANC being punished for keeping the latter was also democracy in action.
There is murmuring that, should the ruling party lose an election, God must bless us all. Those people should take time to explain to the rest of us how the ANC ruled the Western Cape province but graciously accepted defeat in all the elections that followed. In 1999, the ANC had 62% of the Gauteng provincial vote, but that figure is very close to 50% right now and life is continuing. The ruling party lost Nelson Mandela Bay and I have not seen the army deployed to protect the interests of the ruling party in that metro, as would happen in a banana republic. What was visible, instead, was more robust campaign in those areas where the ruling party felt under threat. As it should be.
On Wednesday at the polling station I voted at, I was behind a lady who appeared particularly suspicious that her ballot paper would not make it into the ballot box. The person in charge of the polling station called various party agents to reassure the person that her vote went into the right box. That is democracy at work, assuring the electorate that they will be heard.
Early indications are that newcomers EFF are steadily increasing their share of the voting pie. The Democratic Alliance has been increasing their share of that pie with each passing election. Yet the credibility of each passing election remains the same, always credited as free and fair.
My point? It’s easy to moan and point fingers at the wrongs of the ruling party, but it’s equally easy to miss the safeguards that that same party has ensured stay in place to ensure that you and I can vote and be assured that our vote counts. We need only look to the north of our border to realise just how easily an election can be stolen. So yes, things are not as bad as we sometimes make them out to be.