We’ve come a long way, but this election is crucial
George Devenish reflects on 25 years of democratic rule in South Africa – and where we are headed
IN THIS year in which there will be the sixth general election since the inception of our non-racial democratic constitution dispensation in 1994, it is apposite to reflect in a dispassionate way on the progress we have made as a nation.
In many respects South Africa has made significant progress.
The country and its people are fundamentally different to the way they were before
1994, where everything was based on institutionalised racial discrimination.
With the historic democratic election of 27 April 1994, followed immediately by the interim constitution, South Africa entered a new and exciting political era with the promise of social justice and economic rehabilitation for all.
Under the charismatic leadership of one of the greatest statesman of the 20th century, Nelson
Mandela, we were bequeathed an invaluable legacy of political integrity, selflessness inspired moral leadership. Unfortunately much of this legacy has been squandered, particularly under the inept and corrupt Zuma administration.
Nevertheless, viewed holistically, meaningful progress has been made in many areas.
The Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has over the years provided South Africa an accurate barometer of the state of the nation. For the period 2017/2018, crime statistics released by the SAPS reflected a disconcerting increase 6.9% in murders – 56 murders a day. The same IRR report highlighted several of the country’s achievements.
It should be noted that although South Africa still has an unacceptably high unemployment rate of 27.2%, the number of black people with jobs rose from 4.9 million in 1994 to 12 million in 2017.
The report also indicated that the upward mobility of black people within the work space changed significantly. Despite the recent turbulence on campuses of our universities, the report noted that in 1985 there were 211756 students enrolled at these institutions, which was to increase nearly fourfold in 2015 to 824880.
Progress has also been made in the provision of housing, water and electricity to previously disadvantaged people in the townships and rural areas.
Although more than 17 million people receive social grants, more than 20 million live below the poverty datum line.
Despite the progress, South Africa remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Poverty, widespread corruption and violent protests, particularly in relation to poor service delivery under local government, blight our country.
The unequal distribution of resources, not just of land, is a cause for profound concern and poses a potentially destabilising political factor for our democracy. This means that although as a nation we have made noticeable progress since 1994, we still urgently need to effect social justice and prosperity for all people.
It has become increasingly evident that the Zuma presidency of just less than a decade was catastrophic for of South Africa.
It was characterised by endemic corruption, political ineptitude and so-called state capture, as is apparent from the evidence presented to to its political support fall below 50%. This is a possibility, since for some time it has been steadily losing support both nationally and provincially.
This, it is submitted, will result in a fundamental change and usher in a highly problematic era of inherently unpredictable coalition politics. If the ANC gets less than 50%, say 48% or less, the crucial question will be who it will form a coalition with.
However, it is doubtful whether at this juncture of our political experience our political leadership have the maturity to use coalition governments advantageously, especially at the national level, although at provincial level it could be a learning experience.
This is indicated by the state of affairs in the three metro governments where the ANC lost control and coalitions parties were cobbled together, by the DA, the EFF and other minor parties.
If, for example, the ANC fails to secure a 50% majority and as a result forms an alliance with the
EFF or the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party recently launched by the trade union Numsa, such an alliance would in all probability move the ANC towards the left of the political spectrum.
On the other hand, a coalition with the DA and possibly the IFP, in the form of a government of national unity, although unlikely but not impossible (and most certainly not undesirable), would move it into the centre.
Of all the options, this is the one that could bring about political renewal. It depends to a great extent on how DA and the IFP fare in the election.
If, on the other hand, the ANC gets more than 50% of the vote, the need for coalition government to a great extent falls away.
If it obtains between 55% and 60%, this could be perceived as a significant victory for Ramaphosa, because it would appear that he has in difficult circumstances consolidated the electorate behind him in testing circumstances.
A result of between 54% and
50% of voter support could be challenging for him and the ANC. It would, however, strengthen the combined opposition and facilitate greater political accountability.
It could also be a prelude to a government of national unity, as indicated above. This could flow from a re-orientation of political parties, where the dividing factor between parties is an economic one and not one of race, as is largely the determining issue at present and has been in the past.
Furthermore, the ANC and the tripartite alliance could part ways and the ANC could also very well split into two factions – the Ramaphosa one aligning with the DA and possibly the IFP, the Zuma faction linking with the newly formed Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party and the EFF.
The year, 25 years after the inception of our democratic dispensation, could be a watershed one for SA. It is very likely to be intensely interesting; indeed a fascinating one in the run-up to, and in the wake of, the election.