It's time for a wake-up vote

2011-04-29 00:00

IN this article I am going to put forward a view that many will find paradoxical and some will probably regard as absurd. I suggest, to put it in a nutshell, that many of those who support the broad thrust of African National Congress policies, particularly (in spite of the apparent pointers to the contrary) its desire to make South Africa a more equal society, should vote AGAINST it in the forthcoming local government elections.

It seems certain that, whatever happens, the ANC will emerge from the elections as by far the strongest party. But in view of its recent serious failings at the local government level, it is important for everyone, and for the ANC itself, that it loses control of some municipalities and that everywhere, or almost everywhere, its majorities are reduced.

The ANC is in need of a wake-up call. All political parties that are in power within democratic systems are in danger of becoming complacent, slack and inefficient. Only setbacks at elections seem able to produce a real determination to change in a positive way and to root out corruption and incompetence. This certainly seems to be true of the ANC. Indications that many voters are beginning to turn against it might undermine the sense that a fair number of its representatives seem to have that it governs by some sort of divine right, that it will remain in power (as President Jacob Zuma once said in an unguarded moment) "until Jesus comes again".

Almost all the municipalities governed by the ANC have done sterling work, and very many South Africans now enjoy amenities that they did not have 15 years ago. One must not forget these facts which, because they are unexciting, the media have tended to gloss over. But the failures in local government — in governance, in accounting, in accountability — are well known and cannot be ignored. This is particularly true in the Msunduzi Municipality which has crashed spectacularly and is at the moment — rather like the people of north-east Japan after the tsunami — trying to reassemble a viable social entity from the ruins of its predecessor.

But it is a mistake, I believe, to place all the blame for the failures in local government at the door of local government itself. National government has been insufficiently proactive in assisting the municipalities. To take just one issue (an issue which this column has mentioned before), instead of allowing hundreds of frustrations about "service delivery" to develop, it should have provided a clear national plan and timetable for the gradual removal of the dreadful apartheid legacy: the steady provision throughout the country of piped water, electricity, houses, waste removal, sewerage, roads, street lights. Such a plan would be controversial, especially in the eyes of those who are to receive services last (and such people would need to be compensated in various ways), but at least it would be honest and transparent. For too long national government has criticised local government for not doing what — even if there were no corruption and incompetence — it could never possibly have done.

So at both local and national levels the ANC needs to be given a shock, a shake-up — for the good of the country and for its own good too.

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