Vanquished. Our pride has been eroded.
Yes, that strong verb comes to mind as I recall the beauty of the colourful long lines of voters etched across the South African landscape in 1994.
Promise was in the air on that special day. Exuberance shone from many faces and the shuffling feet of eager voters served only as a precursor of promised rapid change that lay ahead.
The majority of those basking in the emerging sun of a new dawn were voting for the first time in the country of their birth.
The future held so much potential.
Twenty-seven years later, the sifting dust from those shuffling feet has morphed into a whirlwind of discontent, of the rustle of billions of rand disappearing into the vortex, and of the collapse of hope that promised so much and delivered so little.
Vanquished but redeemable
Our lives today are dominated by social media delivering news of shenanigans past and present. We share clips illustrating how inventive ways are still being found to steal from the poor. We watch in horror as denials of guilt emerge smugly from behind the darkened windows of luxury cars bought with purloined money. There is no semblance of shame in their vapid denials.
Social media honchos know we pine for a thimbleful of good news, and they deliver that as well to assuage our feelings of rejection that weigh us down. Even now, we find time to smile at some of the scything interpretations of our daily lives captured by South African cartoonists.
The ANC tries hard to turn scores of thorny government entanglements into scintillating positives. But not even a magician of the calibre of David Copperfield could conjure up an acceptable parable from the misguided jugglings of so many miscreants.
Given that the culture of helping oneself to someone else’s money seems to have become an infestation, only nimble minds in the party appear capable of massaging the decline into a semblance of normality.
Who would have thought that the emergence of the world’s newest democracy more than a quarter of a century ago would morph into a political party plaything to be treated with such unerring disdain?
There was no indication in those heady early days that the nascent Rainbow Nation would teeter on the edge of a morass liberally littered with examples of the failed states that South Africa insists on supporting.
Truth be told, our current predicament is one of the downsides of the proportional representation voting system hammered out all those years ago by our learned negotiators, our current President among them.
In those early days, our nascent constitution was greeted, and rightly so, with tremendous applause by many nations across the globe. South Africa stood on the cusp of greatness, and the world held its breath.
The slide from that wonderland accelerated sharply as the ANC began implementing policies that have failed spectacularly elsewhere in the world. In the last 12 years, the degradation has assumed catastrophic proportions.
Pride in Proportional Representation
In my view, one of the many reasons we are approaching a dreaded Rubicon can be attributed to our adoption of the proportional representation (PR) system. Let’s accept that its implementation at the time was a dire necessity in a society riven by so many undesirable and unique variables. List PR and its many positives met those unique needs head-on at the time.
South Africa today is weighed down heavily by the well-known negatives that accrue to the PR system.
The ACE Electoral Knowledge Network (https://bit.ly/2WJH1RM), the world’s largest online community and repository of electoral knowledge, puts it like this:
Excessive entrenchment of power within party headquarters and in the hands of senior party leaderships – especially in closed-list systems. A candidate’s position on the party list, and therefore his or her likelihood of success, is dependent on currying favour with party bosses, while their relationship with the electorate is of secondary importance. (note – voters can see the names of candidates on South Africa’s closed list system).
Weak links between elected legislators and their constituents. When List PR is used, and particularly when seats are allocated in one single national district, the system is criticised for destroying the link between voters and their representatives.
I’m sure you recognise the wobbly foundations of some of the woes we stare at every day in South Africa.
In the first instance, we see how party loyalists have entrenched themselves at every level of government. The party comes first, and the country and the electorate a distant second.
Cadre deployment (see my article at https://bit.ly/3BBF1Kc), strongly supported by the President, has greased our slide towards a failed state. Every level of government is riddled with folk whose belief in self-interest is an overwhelming mantra. There are many good people among the hordes in government service, but their positive deeds are scattered like chaff in the wind.
Even Parliament, with its oversight capabilities in tatters, is being slapped with a farcical appointment. Deposed cabinet minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula will surely be accepted as the new Leader of the House, taking with her a reputation that seems unable to stand up to any but the mildest scrutiny.
The second disadvantage of the List PR system identified by the Ace Network leads me to ask you as the reader: who is your MP? Who do you hold accountable for the annus horribilis we endure at national level?
Without constituency-based representation at national level, voters have few choices if they want to hold a national representative accountable. (see my earlier articles at https://bit.ly/2VbUzoo and https://bit.ly/2WHQeJW).
There is no chance that a new voting system will be introduced for the election of parliamentarians unless the ANC loses at the polls and accepts defeat. Even then, the many advantages of the List PR system may win the day.
So we have to place our bets on the ruling party leadership using a broom with extremely hard bristles to clean out the riffraff; on whistle-blowers being endowed with extraordinary courage (reinforced by State protection) continuing to come forward, and on the ruling party having the moral fortitude to do the right thing.
We gird ourselves with the flimsiest of protection: hope.
To see further examples of work by SAFREA members, visit https://safreachronicle.co.za/.