The road to democracy is paved with promises

2014-04-23 10:00

Before every election, the residents of Mgezankamba, the home village of Mondli Makhanya, are reminded of all the tangible rewards of democracy. They are grateful, even if the state forgets about them after election day

A few weeks after the 2009 general elections, I sat with the elders of Mgezankamba, a lovely village nestled somewhere in the sovereign kingdom at the coast.

As we sat sipping liquids under the stars, the villagers waxed lyrical about the wonderful things that the ANC had done for them in the run-up to the poll.

They excitedly told me about all the attention they had received from the government in the months and weeks leading up to the elections.

Officials from the department of social development had arrived in a truck to issue identity documents, and sign up children and pensioners for government grants.

Food parcels had been dished out left, right and centre by their “caring” government.

The potholed gravel road had been smoothed out.

On election day, ANC volunteers had provided pap and vleis to those in the queue.

After voting, they were rewarded “with something called hot dogs” by the local Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) officials.

Interestingly, they could not tell the difference between the IEC and the ANC, as the local temporary staff was made up mostly of SA Democratic Teachers’ Union members who happened to hold a certain political allegiance.

The IFP had never dished out such nice food when it was still in charge, they said.

The villagers were just loving the ANC.

I spent last weekend in Mgezankamba and the villagers had more good stories to tell.

The road had not only been smoothed out, but had been strengthened with stones so that it would not be so slippery.

A skills development centre had been completed towards the end of last year so local matriculants would no longer have to search far and wide for Further Education and Training colleges.

The villagers’ happiness was crowned with the extension of the electricity grid to the village.

After it was stalled in the neighbouring valley during the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies, this big development was set to transform the lives of the people of Mgezankamba.

And they were loving the ANC even more.

Ask them about corruption, Jacob Zuma and Nkandla, and they will express anger and disappointment.

They will call Zuma inuku (uncouth person) and complain about how he was looking after himself and his family.

They will also complain about the corruption at different levels of government and how it has held back development.

But the overwhelming feeling is that the arrival of electricity, the fixing of the road and the opening of the skills development centre far outweighs the sins of the governors.

The people of Mgezankamba know full well that all these things had come to them because there’s an election around the corner. They are grateful for this thing called democracy.

“If there were no elections, we would never get anything,” said one.

This sentiment warmed me and made me sad.

One can look at this and say that it means the people recognise the benefits of democracy because they associate it with tangible deliveries.

They will therefore hold it dear and defend it when it is in danger as it is the guarantor of the improvement of their lives.

On the other hand, there is the cynical use of election-linked delivery to manipulate the sentiments of poor people.

As the people of Mgezankamba and other parts of the country have found, the fulfilment of their needs forms part of many elaborate plans in the government programmes that get trotted out in speeches.

After that, they are put in the bottom drawer until the local government elections, or provincial and nation polls, come round. Then they are remembered again.

While the memory is still fresh, they are reminded of all the great things that their caring government and their “glorious movement” has done for them.

Move around the country right now and you will see accelerated delivery, which is all aimed at manipulating sentiment.

Listen to the speeches, monitor policy proposals and you will find populist moves being made to please the voting public.

You will hear ridiculous proposals about 60-40 sporting quotas being bandied about just to remind the people that the government does care about transformation.

You will come across a preposterous document proposing that farm workers be handed half of all commercial farms.

There is renewed talk about employment equity targets and assistance to small businesses?...?and so on and so on.

The people will love their government and their ANC because it is seen to be doing something to change society.

After May 7, all these plans and proposals will be returned to the bottom drawer to be fished out again before the next election.

These are all nice tricks for an incumbent party. But like all tricks, they become tired and predictable.

After a while, the people will wise up to these tricks, and become cynical of the government and the system that it uses to run the country.

They will ask probing questions about why they need to wait for years to get something to which they are rightfully entitled.

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