A Curious Case: What we need: political will over political will not

2014-05-13 10:00

On Wednesday, I spoilt my ballot like I said I would. I wrote “Remember Marikana. Remember Mambush” across my national and provincial ballots.

It wasn’t a protest vote against the ANC, nor was it an anarchist’s rejection of electoral politics.

In my previous career as a chartered accountant, I saw first hand that systems of internal control, when effective, minimise risk and help organisations achieve their objectives.

These internal controls are checks and balances in a system designed to anticipate and mitigate, or eliminate, undesirable outcomes.

The undesirable outcome for this country is that our democracy’s four pillars – accountability, responsiveness, openness and inclusiveness – will remain weak and often nonexistent in this fifth democratic Parliament and beyond.

The risk is high that the majority of citizens will remain faceless, nameless and voiceless, and the issues affecting them most will be sidelined or dealt with paternalistically the moment the red carpet is rolled out for the new MPs and MPLs.

Voting alone hasn’t and won’t fix this. Nor, unfortunately, will attempts to reinitiate and sustain a bottom-up style of democracy if such movements do not put fixing the system of democratic representation and participation high up on their agendas.

If the system was effective, everyone would have a substantively equal say.

Equally, the state would have acted more decisively to redistribute land and other resources necessary for people to live with the dignity promised to us all.

These issues are foremost in the minds of millions. Yet, instead of being accorded commensurate importance, these issues have been glibly dismissed as “populist” and set off against capitalist interests.

If the system was effective, people wouldn’t still be dying in shack fires and Mambush wouldn’t have had to die for R12?500 – a demand that to this day is yet to be realised.

Fifteen weeks into their strike, hundreds of miners on the platinum belt and their families say they’d rather die than go back to work without this meagre demand having been met.

It’s a heartbreaking show of desperation that has fallen on deaf ears.

New left-leaning political formations such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Workers & Socialist Party, the Democratic Left Front and metal workers’ union Numsa’s inchoate united front will have to accept that electoral politics are merely a vehicle by which the will of the people is brought to bear on the state.

As the election results show, many affected by the issues they champion have chosen the ANC as that vehicle, despite it talking left and walking right.

Left-leaning formations will have to ask themselves whether they champion these issues primarily to unseat the ANC, or whether their primary goal is for these issues to take their rightful place atop the state’s agenda.

The single biggest systemic weakness they should focus on is the influence of money on politics, especially regarding the lack of regulation over private and foreign funding and the investment companies of political parties – a relatively easy thing to fix, given political will.

A tiny proportion of people in our unequal society have money in abundance, giving them a greater say. This, too, is easy to fix but also requires political will. And if the resurgent left-leaning formations now involved in electoral politics do not agitate for this, who will?

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