More of the same

2011-04-25 00:00

THE trouble with South African politics is that there is a lot of bluster, but underneath it all there is much of the sameness, a tedium actually that is quite boring. Take an announcement last week that the South African Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) will hold a national strike on May 13 — five days before the local government elections. An immediate reaction is wow! This powerful union is prepared to flex its muscle at such a crucial time and irritate voters, even to the detriment of its own alliance partner and ruling party the ANC. What does it all mean?

Then you read the list of the union's demands and basically it is more of the same. Samwu has started wage negotiations and is demanding an 18% increase, provided hat the minimum cash is not less than R2 000 with effect from July 2011. Besides the wage demand another opportunistic demand is that President Jacob Zuma not sign into law the Muncipal Systems Act Amendment Bill. This bill prevents municipal officials from being party office bearers — its intention is to depoliticise municipalities and ensure that skilled staff are appointed. We know from Msunduzi Municipality that staff use the union as a conduit to top jobs within the municipality. It is a short step from being a shop steward to becoming a senior official.

Similarly, Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi has been quite scathing about a predatory elite within the ruling party, as my Christian friends would say, he speaks truth to power. The only problem is that truth is going nowhere as Vavi sends mixed messages. In his latest open letter to workers, he calls on them to put government under pressure to do more and address challenges. In the same letter he encourages unions to campaign for the ANC and not boycott the elections or worse still vote for the DA.

There is nothing wrong with Cosatu campaigning for the ANC, its policies after all are closest to those of the union federation. However, I for one would like to know how do you go about putting the ruling party under pressure and at the same time campaign for it. Is the ANC ever going to take Vavi seriously the next time he speaks out against corruption and poor service delivery? Won't he be dismissed as "There goes Vavi, shooting his mouth off again"?

This local government election has the same feel of tedium, of nothing fresh and new. Of course there is the bluster. There is the almost daily parading by one or other party of members of other parties that have crossed over to join them. The ANC has so far carried out a very low-key campaign, possibly because it is still smarting from the in-fighting over its list process. No doubt the razzmatazz is still to come. There are bound to be a couple of rallies with DJs, pop artists and Gospel singers introducing the feel-good factor and rousing the masses.

Where is the focus on issues and where are the details on the candidates? After all, this election is where you actually get to vote for a person. With fewer than 24 days to go, who are the candidates, why aren't they holding public meetings to introduce themselves to the voters in their wards by presenting their credentials and track records and saying what they plan to do for their constitutents.

The ANC should make a particular effort to present their candidates for public scrutiny. This may put paid to all the squabbles during the selection process and lay to rest the belief that candidates are mere lackeys chosen because they are yes men and women to the local ANC Regional Executive Council (RECs).

In fact it was Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka, currently mired in controversy, who first noted that the problem with many municipalities was that they were not run by the councils but by the RECs. This emerged in an extensive state of the municipalities report that Shiceka failed to address.

A way of shaking off the tedium, doing something differently and ensuring the local electorate that this council is going to be in control is by showcasing the candidates. Let their voices be heard and let them stand up to public scrutiny. In some ways this statement may sound naive because it is quite clear that the ANC is still assured of the majority of votes so it does not have to do anything differently, least of all debate issues or put its candidates up for public scrutiny. However, times are changing. We witnessed the reaction to the death of Andries Tatane in Ficksburg. We've seen Helen Zille go into areas where the DA once feared to tread. The ANC must be careful about getting caught up in the bluster and becoming too complacent.

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