Richard Chemaly
4 minute read
11 Aug 2020
1:00 pm

What’s the point of political parties, when they insist on passing the blame to individuals?

Richard Chemaly

You’d think that when a party admits that the wrong person is in power and recalls them, there would be some sort of sanction, but no, it’s just political chess but where the pieces keep respawning.

Voters in line at the Northfield Methodist church in Benoni on voting day, 8th May 2019. Picture: Neil McCartney

There’s something uniquely deceptive about the democratic process, and that is the idea that accountability is built into it.

It turns out that isn’t really the case.

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Sure, there are spaces where we’ve built some systems of accountability within it, like separation of powers, Chapter 9 institutions etc, but they don’t always permeate the entire system naturally and effectively.

On Friday night, Mangaung mayor, Sarah Matawana “Olly” Mlamleli, was relieved of her duties, in what must have been a rather unrelieving start to the weekend for her.

Reportedly, her occupation of the seat was the cause of friction between the regional and provincial leadership of the ANC, with the latter wishing to maintain their deployees in power.

However, following 2 successive ratings agency downgrades for the metro, and after surviving 2 prior votes of no confidence, Friday night initiated Olly’s eviction from the Mayoral house.

One thing about this is that the ANC holds a majority on their own in the city council, so it’s obvious that many of their members did not rush to save her. The secret ballot means that even some of them could have actively voted against her maintaining her occupancy, so either actively or passively, the ANC allowed their comrade to fall.

But how does this look for the ANC themselves? And why, if their own people are effectively admitting to failing their mandate of the 2016 municipal elections, will they be allowed to impose another mayor upon us?

Were this an isolated incident, maybe this wouldn’t be an urgent conversation, but our politics appears to be the most unsatisfying game of musical chairs.

Even right at the top, if Ramaphosa is recalled as calls for that grow, accounting for the short stint of Motlanthe, South African democracy would feature more presidents who were recalled before the end of their term than those who completed their mandate. That’s a scary thought.

Scarier is that this is just allowed to happen and the only ramifications are that people may show some anger in the next election. But even if that were to happen, should there not be a check and balance in place to prevent those who have failed to deploy the right people from deploying more people?

The value of a political party is that it allows us to outsource our political agency to professional agents, who then purport to act in our political interests. Sure they won’t get it smack bang on every time, but broadly one can identify with the ideals of one or more parties and the price of that functional convenience is departing from a couple of your ideals.


So, you hand your political party of choice the ability to elect leaders on your behalf so you can do better things with your day, and not spend the day filling out ballots and voting on whether street lamps must be switched on at 18h00 or 18h12.

This begs the question then, that when a political party acknowledges that they made the wrong call in who they put up to represent you in the first place? Should that disqualify them from putting up the next person to replace the recalled one?

While initially this may seem like a good idea, it violates so many legal principles, such as majority rule and getting around situations where one party does not enjoy an outright majority could also be a difficulty.

It is frustrating that reshuffle after recall, after, after, after, keeps the same cycle going on and while the people in state power feel the brunt of the blame in the form of losing power, those who put them there can just laugh it off and inject the next stooge into the arena.

Perhaps in time, we may come up with a reconcilable check and balance mechanism with sufficient complexities that it fits in perfectly with our law.

Until then though, we should be asking whether recalling your people does not admit of some sort of significant failure, and I bet you it does.

Richard Anthony Chemaly entertainment attorney, radio broadcaster and lecturer of communication ethics.

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