The IEC must pro­tect our X

CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya voices@city­press.co.za

Th­ese are test­ing times when ra­tio­nal peo­ple lose their sense of rea­son. Im­pos­si­ble prom­ises and im­prob­a­ble claims are made and be­lieved. It is also a heart-warm­ing time that sees lead­ers do af­fect­ing things in a bid to en­dear them­selves to vot­ers. For­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki was known to kiss ba­bies dur­ing elec­tion time – with­out so much as a frown or a wince while do­ing so. Once, he even hum­bled him­self by sit­ting on the floor of a town­ship home, while oth­ers sat on chairs or re­mained stand­ing. And Western Cape Premier He­len Zille trans­formed her­self into a Motswana makoti, don­ning a doek and tra­di­tional dress while fail­ing dis­mally to co­or­di­nate dance steps.

Hea­thens sud­denly find the urge to go to re­li­gious cer­e­monies so that they can slip in a word or two of elec­tion­eer­ing to wor­ship­pers.

Elec­tion time is also one of bel­liger­ence. For­get­ting that there will be “a day af­ter”, politi­cians test the outer bounds of de­cent en­gage­ment and skirt close to in­cite­ment. Even the ma­jor­ity party, which is sup­posed to be the adult in the room, joins in un­seemly public brawls. But we ac­cept the vent­ing – be­cause elec­tions, as a cen­tral pil­lar of the best sys­tem hu­man­ity has de­vised to man­age its af­fairs, are meant to be ro­bust. There are times, how­ever, when this ro­bust­ness be­comes in­cen­di­ary.

The tra­di­tional leader, who heads a dy­ing re­gional party, used to be the mas­ter of in­cen­di­ary talk, warn­ing that he would be un­able to con­trol his sup­port­ers if things did not go his way. Now that he is much older, his pen­chant for war talk has some­what dis­si­pated. That hon­our now be­longs to Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF) leader Julius Malema, who seems to lose him­self when crowds re­spond to his mil­i­tant rhetoric with rau­cous ap­plause. Malema’s re­cent ut­ter­ances about armed in­sur­rec­tion and get­ting the army to turn on the pres­i­dent have elicited dis­may, but it is his at­tack on the In­de­pen­dent Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (IEC) that is more dis­con­cert­ing.

Speak­ing at the party’s elec­tion man­i­festo last week­end, Malema did not mince his words about his party’s dis­trust of the elec­toral body. He di­rectly ac­cused the com­mis­sion of rig­ging the 2014 Gaut­eng elec­tion re­sult. Ac­cord­ing to Malema, this was not just tam­per­ing but out­right rig­ging – to the ex­tent that it af­fected the over­all bal­ance of power in the prov­ince. This se­ri­ous charge, if true, would mean that Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura has been gov­ern­ing on a stolen man­date for two years – and that, un­less he is able to draw an­other party into a coali­tion, his ad­min­is­tra­tion is il­le­git­i­mate and he must give up his con­voy.

This is not a new ac­cu­sa­tion. The EFF has been mak­ing sim­i­lar noises since 2014, but re­fuses to back up its claims, say­ing it let the mat­ter go in the in­ter­ests of peace and progress. The sev­eral hours’ hia­tus in pro­cess­ing Gaut­eng’s re­sults, dur­ing the fi­nal count­ing on May 8 2014, did raise sus­pi­cions in many quar­ters. But in the ab­sence of any­one tak­ing it up of­fi­cially, it re­mains juicy gos­sip.

But now Malema has el­e­vated it to a pre­emp­tive point of sus­pi­cion about the con­duct of this year’s lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions. He con­tended that the prac­tice of draw­ing the com­mis­sion’s tem­po­rary staff from Cosatu unions placed it in the hands of the ANC. As th­ese staff mem­bers rep­re­sented the com­mis­sion in cities and re­mote ar­eas dur­ing that pe­riod, this placed the ANC, as Cosatu’s al­liance part­ner, at an ad­van­tage.

Again, this is noth­ing new and it is a con­cern shared by other op­po­si­tion par­ties, which have com­bined to force the com­mis­sion to end the prac­tice. And their con­cerns are not un­founded. Plenty of anec­do­tal ev­i­dence ex­ists of com­mis­sion work­ers fail­ing to hide their par­ti­san­ship.

How­ever, this puts the com­mis­sion in a bind be­cause public ser­vants, who are mainly in the Cosatu unions, are of­ten the most lit­er­ate in some com­mu­ni­ties and hence easy to train for elec­toral tasks. The chal­lenge is how to make the com­mis­sion’s cus­tomer base – the cit­i­zenry and all po­lit­i­cal par­ties – have full trust in the sanc­tity of the sys­tem and the im­pos­si­bil­ity of it be­ing abused by par­ti­san work­ers. There are still three months to get this right, but it will take hard work and hon­est talk.

It does not help that ques­tions are be­ing asked at a time when the com­mis­sion is fac­ing a self­in­flicted cri­sis of cred­i­bil­ity. The scan­dal around its for­mer chair­per­son, Pansy Tlakula, dragged on for­ever and the han­dling of the Tlokwe vote-rig­ging scan­dal, dur­ing which the com­mis­sion’s first re­ac­tion was one of de­nial, dented its rep­u­ta­tion.

Now Malema has raised the stakes by in ef­fect threat­en­ing that his party may not ac­cept the re­sults of an elec­tion that is still about three months away. It is an old tac­tic that op­po­si­tion par­ties on our con­ti­nent and else­where em­ploy to pre­pare their sup­port­ers for the re­jec­tion of an elec­tion out­come. With sup­port­ers hav­ing been thus primed, this is of­ten fol­lowed by vi­o­lent protests upon the re­lease of an un­wel­come re­sult.

Hope­fully, this is not what Malema and his com­mis­sars are pre­par­ing the na­tion for when they re­peat­edly project the com­mis­sion as an in­stru­ment of Luthuli House.

Free­dom Day had a bizarre feel to it, with more cops than pro­test­ers turn­ing out for the march

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