Up your Prod. You can Kiss my Cape

2009-03-07 00:00

It’s a bit like the poseur’s gripe about television. A hundred channels and nothing to watch. In this case 117 political parties and no one to vote for. The electoral pond has mostly minnows. Of those 117, only 42 will participate in the national elections, while only 11 will contest both the National Assembly and all the provincial legislatures.

Only a handful will achieve national representation. Most of them will sink without trace.

It is a misconception that proportional representation ensures that every vote matters. While every vote is, of course, counted, it is easy to fritter away one’s electoral birthright by pursuing quixotic causes.

In the 2004 election a party had to draw about 40 000 votes to win a seat in the National Assembly. This meant that about 100 000 people wasted their votes at the national level — another 170 000 at provincial level — by supporting parties that never had a hope of winning a seat. Many of these were vanity parties — the proverbial one man and a dog with a chip on the shoulder, delusions of grandeur and a deftness with acronyms. In 2004, sunk without a ripple were The Organisation Party (Top), the Keep it Straight and Simple Party (Kiss), the Pro-Death Penalty Party (Prod), the Independent African Movement (IAM), and the Universal Party (Up).

It will be no different this time. Proportional representation throws up many prophets in search of a following, most doomed to oblivion.

Some only want to participate in the system in order to reject it. It used to be KwaZulu-Natal where secession was regularly mooted, in the last century by the empire loyalists resentful of Afrikaner domination, more recently by the Zulu, sensitive to slights from the Xhosa.

This time around it is the Cape Party (Cape) calling for the autonomy of the lower half of the country, with the slogan “Die Kaap vir die Kaaplander” (“The Cape for the Capelander”).

With Helen Zille’s Western Cape parochialism already exerting a choke hold on the Democratic Alliance (DA), Cape might be thought to hold little attraction. Maybe not. Many up-country folk might be pleased at the idea of being shot of all those smug Capies.

Another no-hoper quick out of the blocks is Women Forward (WF), its symbol predictably a rose, which is an “independent, nonsexist and nonracial party representing women’s interests”. It implausibly claims that its leaderette, Nana Ngobese-Nxumalo, is the first female president of a political party in South Africa. From the campaign pictures on its website it appears that WF has at least four supporters. Its secretary-general is Tshifhiwa Nangammbi, who has a “great passion for life and success”. Nangammbi is a “respected academic” at the University of the Free State and has “powerful co-ordination skills”, intimating that unlike former United States president Gerald Ford, she can walk and chew gum at the same time.

This enthusiasm for starting one’s own political party might be welcomed as a sign of vibrant democracy, were it not dangerously naïve. A strong governing party (read African National Congress) needs to be confronted by strong opposition.

That means supporting either the DA, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the United Democratic Front (UDM), the Independent Democrats (ID), the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), or the untested Congress of the People (Cope).

Forget the lunatic fringe.

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