Monday, 5 May 2014

South African Elections 2014: Reflections on 20 years of democracy

For my international readers who might not know, Wednesday (May 7) marks South Africa's next national elections. It's particularly poignant considering that it's 20 years after the country's first democratic elections in 1994, and this is going to be our fifth election since then.

What else makes this special? Well, it will be the first South African elections without Nelson Mandela alive - and being shamelessly used in electioneering by the ANC. It will be the first democratic election where South Africans have been quite as disillusioned by the ruling party ... name your controversy and we've had it recently. The president's Nkandla scandal, e-Tolling in Gauteng, our first rolling electricity blackouts in years only a recent memory, the unfortunate rise of Julius Malema as a political force ... you name it, we have it.

Then you have the 'everyday' South African headaches: rising unemployment, lowering education standards, continuing racial tensions (stoked by Black Economic Empowerment employment policies and various politicians' calls for nationalisation and increased distribution of white-owned assets), the constantly moving crime target, corruption scandals and general maladministration.

On the one hand everybody feels quite sure that the ANC won't do as well in the next election as they'll be hoping - at least by enough to again stave off their getting a sufficient Parliamentary majority to make unilateral changes to our Constitution. It is clear that more and more former ANC voters are finally getting disillusioned: 20 years IS an awful long time to hold onto flaky electioneering promises, and Nelson Mandela has passed on and therefore the insult to him won't be as bad if you vote against HIS party.

On the other hand, however, all of the above isn't exactly the great news that it really should be for South African opposition parties. Consider, for example, that the general consensus is that while the ANC will be losing voters, those voters aren't all going to be rushing en masse to South Africa's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Still plagued by being overly 'white' - and still headed up by an elderly white lady who every so often tries to dance on public stages like a black woman, with embarrassing results - the DA isn't the home that it should be for these black voters.

Rather, they're coalescing around other more radical parties, not afraid to make the very same unreal campaign promises the ANC made at the start - and still makes half-heartedly at least every four years. You know the types: more jobs (even the DA is harping on that tune ironically), more wealth (they're vague on how), and ... well, that's about it really. The most radical of these is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and their entire policy is summed up in their name. They're fighting to divide by zero.

For once white South African voters aren't sure whether they'd rather see black voters leave the ANC for the EFF, thereby strengthening the 'opposition' on paper, or stay within the ANC's docile grip! Making it even worse, there's talk about the DA and EFF even considering a partnership in South Africa's province of Gauteng, which would be a massive sell-out to voters for both parties but maybe a Good Thing in the long run (if the back-room squabbling could ever be sorted out). Bearing in mind that the EFF's leader is being tried for tax evasion, and you REALLY don't want a political alliance with the guy ... especially because he's widely quoted as saying he's not against white people, he just wants their hard-earned money equally distributed.

Welcome to South Africa, twenty years on. We're still here, barring what the naysayers thought as they fled overseas in 1994 and later years. Many of us have done relatively ok, others have done a little worse, and really nobody can say that life here is definitively worse or better than in any other country in the world. At least it's not North Korea, or Ukraine, or the Sudan. The only concern, however, is that we don't have any dream that following the elections on Wednesday, we're going to have our 'Obama' moment and everything will be amazing.

There is NO party I as an educated and middle-class South African voter want to vote for, and I'm not alone. Nobody out there is really representing ME or anybody like me (and even those poorer voters who are being 'represented' aren't necessarily being represented in their best interests). The politicians are either corrupt, ignorant or just plain out of touch - and sometimes a combination of the three. South Africa has issues to solve, and nobody to solve them ... yet we're all going to take a day off work (that's the positive side, isn't it?) and dutifully stand in a long queue to make a cross for a party we reckon will be the best of bad options. This isn't the first time, nor the last.

I AM South African. It's just a pity that after 20 years we're not so much Proudly South African any more as Sadly South African, or maybe - slightly more optimistically - Hopefully South African. Here's to the next 20 years, assuming we get that much.

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