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

Sunday Tribune - - OPINION - Devenish is an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor at UKZN and one of the schol­ars who as­sisted in draft­ing the in­terim con­sti­tu­tion in 1993.

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.

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