Sort out corruption or we will vote you out!

2017-12-17 06:12

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This is the stern message from voters to the governing ANC as it meets in Johannesburg this week to produce policies that will guide government for the next five years. The party will also elect a new leader to replace the increasingly unpopular President Jacob Zuma.

A recent survey conducted by Ask Afrika for the University of Pretoria reveals that corruption is the main issue troubling South Africans, irrespective of race or social status. More pointedly, over 90% of those polled say corruption will impact the way they will vote in 2019. Citizens tired of corruption see elections as the best option to rid the state of corrupt leaders. Two-thirds prefer registering to vote as an option, compared with only a quarter who would approach the Public Protector to report corruption.

The second issue is the apparent impunity of those accused of corruption and state capture. The punishment voters prefer for the corrupt is imprisonment. They want to see corrupt government officials fired from their jobs and suffering financial penalties.

There could be two explanations for this. It could be Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s message on the campaign trail against looters. He often vowed that monies stolen from the public would have to be paid back and the thieves held accountable. It could also be that his campaign discerned the sentiment among voters and crafted his messages to capitalise on it.

The National Prosecuting Authority, which once housed the defunct corruption-busting Scorpions, has lost credibility and public trust. Although it is still perceived as better than the police, who voters see as second only to Zuma in terms of their involvement in corruption and state capture.

It is clear that, to many voters, corruption is no longer an abstract thing; it has become tangible. They think that it contributes to high unemployment just as it impacts on service delivery.

This suggests that the change of messaging by opposition parties and NGOs is making an impact. Lately the DA and other parties have been quantifying money lost through corruption in terms of what it could have been spent on to alleviate the suffering of the poor.

As the patience of citizens for poor service delivery diminishes, they blame corrupt government officials for it. This poses a risk for the government, which will always have financial constraints when attending to needs of citizens, even if no money was lost to corruption and maladministration.

It is clear that, if the ANC wants to avoid a bloodbath at the polls in 2019, it has to come up with firm policies and plans on how it will fight corruption and undo the damage done to its reputation. Ironically, the party decided to abolish the Scorpions at its Polokwane conference a decade ago. It may live to rue that decision. In 2004 the ANC achieved a record 69.7% during the general election. One of its messages then was that it had “established the Scorpions to fight organised crime and corruption”.

Corruption appears to be the main driver in reducing public confidence in the government. As courts increasingly get involved in political disputes and making findings against the government in many cases, confidence in the judiciary is improving. It is the most trusted branch of the state as confidence in parliament and its members is also on the decline.

Currently, the Economic Freedom Fighters appears to be the main party that may benefit from the declining fortunes of the ANC. Julius Malema’s red berets have invested a lot in the support of young people who are otherwise disinterested in the politics of the country in general, and in the ANC in particular.

Often young people flunk quizzes aired by the eNCA news channel on political personalities. This may explain the findings of the survey, suggesting that the majority of young people think the country is headed in the right direction or simply do not care.

This is in sharp contrast with voters who are 40 years and older, the overwhelming majority of whom think the country is headed in the wrong direction. However, the majority of young people have great confidence in Malema and his party. It is possible that after an election cycle or two they may sweep him to power.

The DA does not seem to benefit much from the declining ANC popularity. The province with the most dissatisfied residents is the Western Cape, which is governed by the DA. People of that province are unhappy with all tiers of government, and their premier Helen Zille is the second most unpopular premier in the country, after her Northern Cape counterpart, Sylvia Lucas.

The ANC conference faces a simple choice. It should sort out corruption or begin discussions on adapting to an opposition role in national politics.

- Nkosi is the founder of the Nation’s Voice campaign, which is on Twitter and Facebook at @NationsVoiceZA

Read more on:    anc  |  johannesburg  |  anc leadership race

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