Ralph Mathekga

Political parties important for our society

2016-07-29 09:02

Ralph Mathekga

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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