As a people, are we really getting the politics we deserve?

13 January 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times

Although elections are still a few months in the future, the parties are already hard at work, trying to persuade a public grown weary of broken promises and hollow undertakings from politicians that this time it will be different.
And who can blame voters for feeling disillusioned as they prepare to survey the choices facing them? With an economy in the doldrums, and a society seemingly divided into racial, social and class camps, they will be looking for bold and imaginative solutions to the problems facing them and their families at home, in schools and universities and in their workplaces.
In the absence of realistic and practical solutions to the problems facing SA, expect high-flown promises to be the order of the day. That leaves voters having to decide for themselves whether what they are being offered by the competing parties is worth the paper it is written on.
Voters can hardly claim to be spoilt for choice, even though there are likely to be dozens of new faces and parties on the ballot paper.
In one corner we have the ANC, reeling from the deleterious era of state capture. The Zondo commission may go some way towards clearing the ANC ranks of the most dishonest of the state-capture enablers, top of the pile being former president Jacob Zuma, who seems to have staged a revival of his image in public.
While his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, is offering voters a New Dawn, almost 18 months will have elapsed since that New Dawn was proclaimed. Voters will be able to decide for themselves whether it is worth giving Ramaphosa and his party another chance, on top of the 25 years the ANC has already had in high office.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who has done his best to obscure the cleansing light of that New Dawn, said ahead of the ANC's election manifesto launch this week that the party's declaration "will respond to the challenges of crime, unemployment, inequality, poverty, corruption and will reignite the economy and take advantage of digitalisation".
On the other side is the DA, itself racked by internal divisions and still trying to pick up the pieces after its disastrous campaign to unseat Patricia de Lille from the Cape Town mayoralty. That episode raised serious questions about the party, and suggested to observers that party leader Mmusi Maimane does not have what it takes to propel it into the future.
The DA's coalition partner in the urban metros, the EFF, will no doubt show up all its rivals when it comes to the extravagance of its promises on land, jobs, the economy and the vexed question of race.
Party leader Julius Malema's defensive attitude to the VBS bank scandal and his turning on Pravin Gordhan at the Zondo inquiry should raise many questions about whether the EFF can be trusted in government.
In summary, then, South African voters do not have a great deal to look forward to when it comes to the elections, and the parties may well battle to get voters to the voting booths at all.
Do ANC voters return to the fold, lured by the promise of clean government and a new era under Ramaphosa? Can DA voters still trust that the DA will encourage the pursuit of an open and democratic society? Will the EFF offer workable solutions instead of its trademark trashing of everything it doesn't like?
Tough questions, and as the election comes closer, expect a cacophony of voices trying to entice us.
It's not the most edifying spectacle, and perhaps we should not forget that the mere fact of an election is a triumph given our history of division and racism.
Perhaps some good will come of it after all, even if we have to content ourselves with a least-bad choice.

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