Max du Preez

2016 will test our patience

2015-12-08 08:31

Max du Preez

We should all have a good rest this coming holiday. We, the people of South Africa, will have to be strong and energetic when the new year dawns.

The only thing we can be certain of, is that 2016 is going to be a rough year that will test our optimism, our patience, indeed our democracy and stability to the limit.

It would help a lot if we anticipated the challenges ahead and prepared for them instead of waiting to be overwhelmed.

We’re going to the polls in a local election in the first half of 2016. The competition between political parties is fiercer than ever before since 1994: the ANC has its back against the wall and wants to prevent losing control of the big metros; the EFF will in this first test of  its support since last year’s general election when they received 6 percent of the vote prove that they’re a real force; and the DA knows if it doesn’t grow during this election, it could start a decline and they could end up losing its status as official opposition and become a party of minorities.

The general election of 2019 is in the back of the politicians’ minds; the election that could change the face of South African politics completely.

Two dangers

Politicians canvassing for votes are usually reckless in their rhetoric and promises to the electorate. We should take every word from a politician’s mouth with a pinch of salt from now until after the elections.

The local elections hold two dangers that we have to prepare for now.

The first one is violence. The way I read the tealeaves, there is a good chance that we will witness a lot of violent confrontations in the weeks and months ahead of the election, especially between the EFF and the ANC and its Youth League.

The second danger is that parties would refuse to accept the announced results of the election. That could translate into a serious threat to our stability.

The Independent Electoral Commission should take extraordinary steps to restore its credibility after the disastrous mistakes (if that was what they were) during the 2013 by-elections in Tlokwe. Civil society should put pressure on the IEC to comprehensively prove to the electorate that similar mistakes could not occur during the 2016 elections.

We should steel ourselves for more violent protests on the campuses of tertiary institutions of education. The protests of October had a very positive impact on our national politics, but then they deteriorated into mindless violence and destruction with the Cape and Tshwane universities of technology, Fort Hare and Western Cape universities in flames just a few weeks ago.

There is a real danger that the two universities still persisting with Afrikaans as the primary language of instruction, Stellenbosh and Potchefstroom, would be specifically targeted in January and February.

University management teams should be fully prepared by early next year with strategies to keep communication channels with students open, but to also lay down the boundaries of what is proper conduct and what not.

EFF's intention to occupy

Another danger facing us in 2016 is increased violent protests in townships and squatter camps as the economy slips further, food becomes more expensive and unemployment increases.

And then there is the EFF’s stated intention to occupy the buildings of banks and large companies in order to force them to take certain steps. This could lead to much public violence and further damage our economic prospects.

The private sector should not wait until these occupations start before they take steps to prevent or deal with them.

And in the mean time we should all hope and pray the police will be better trained and equipped to deal with violent crowds. Its strong-arm tactics and over-reaction at Marikana and since did not only cost lives, it also simply inflamed emotions and led to more violence.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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