The campaign trail for 2016 local government elections
is well under way. Political parties have outlined their manifestos to the
people. Some parties have gone further and explained to the communities the
reason why they should not be confused with other parties.
The negative campaign has also been setting in pretty
well; with the ANC and the DA exchanging insults and giving their version of
history of South Africa. The ANC has accused the DA of being an apartheid
apologist; a franchise that sprung from the National Party. For younger voters:
the National Party is that party that ran the show under apartheid and its last
leader is one FW de
Klerk. Zuma reminded voters that the DA is
a “snake” that should not be confused for anything less than a serpent.
The DA hit back at the ANC, and used Nelson Mandela in
its campaign messages. The message that was send by the DA when using Mandela’s
name is to say to the ANC: you don’t own Mandela and you are actually a
disgrace to Mandela’s vision. So, the DA is actually promising to rescue
Mandela’s legacy from being further vandalised by the ANC.
That’s all fine and it is indeed politics! The sad
part about this election is the killing of councillors. This is a
straightforward case for me. Within political parties there are those with such
a bleak career prospects that they would resort to killing as a way to create
an opportunity to be considered ward councillors.
The killings might not end after elections. Once
councillors are elected, people might still lose their lives so that
by-elections may be held to replace the fallen councillors. This is an
unfortunate reality of the politics of greed that is setting in at local
government level. The life cover policy premium for councillors would certainly
be very high because of the possibility of being liquidated once one occupies
this increasingly risky position. Political parties should undertake career
developments for their members.
Speaking of greed, we are entering into the phase of
local government where greed just might be the order of the day. The number of
independent councillors has increased in this election. This could point to
loss of confidence in political parties as institutions through which
representation can be attained. Indeed there is a general disgruntlement with
political parties, particularly because of the manner in which they are managed.
The internal processes of sorting out conflicts within
the parties leave much to be desired. The concern is that some members of
political parties have hijacked the internal processes of their parties to
further personal interest. Widespread contests of the list of candidates
selected within parties and defections from parties due to unhappiness with
lists are an indication of this trend.
Some party members have indeed behaved like slumlords, and they know how
to hold their parties to ransom.
Unhappiness within parties has resulted in people
asking their parents to nominate them to stand as independent councillors. I
hope this does not bring strain into family relations when the nominees have to
deliver services. Imagine a father having to reprimand a daughter or a son both
as a child and as a councillor. That would be troubling indeed: “you are a good
for nothing child, you can’t even cut it as a councilor”.
Then politics becomes a family affair. Either way you
see it, we are now entering the era of local government entrepreneurship, and
the threshold for entering the fray is very low. People want opportunities to
make a living, and some might deliver the much-needed services to the people
while at it.
The credibility of political parties as institutions
through which to organise concerns and pursue solutions is quite low. If people
opt for an individual who stands as an independent councillor instead of one
who stands through a party ticket, this says that political parties are soon
going to be seen as glorified pimps. Who needs a pimp if you can go it alone,
and keep the entire loot to yourself?
I believe parties remain important for our society;
and they help in aggregating concerns towards achievable goals. Of course the
state of political parties in South Africa is quite disturbing. The uncertainty
regarding who is in charge within these parties is something that could make
municipalities more dysfunctional even after the elections.
As for the independent councillors who will be making
it to the councils, they will be confronted with the reality of having to work
with party minions. Throughout their term as councillors, independents might
have to explain exactly why they went the independent route.
The independents might get punished by being ruled out
throughout: Comrade independent councillor, you are out of order and overruled
for the next five years, but you get to keep your salary!
- Ralph Mathekga is the head of political economy at MISTRA.
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