If the people, and not parties, chose representatives, the ANC rot would never be returned to power
Never in its short history of democracy has SA approached a general election with so many burning issues facing it as is the case at the moment. These are seemingly intractable problems which demand our full attention, all at once.
The land question, the spark that launched - and fuelled - resistance to apartheid, has taken centre stage with a few notable upstarts and opportunists suddenly realising that, if sufficiently manipulated, it could be an effective vehicle to propel them to their political kingdom.
It's an issue that has the potential to nuke the economy and unravel our tenuous democratic dispensation. Despite the existence of constitutional instruments to address the issue, parliament has, in its wisdom, seen fit to tinker with the constitution itself to appease a lunatic fringe. It could be a slippery slope.
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Corruption has taken on astronomical proportions. In fact, to call it corruption is to understate the crimes that have been committed and the damage that has done to the country. Treason is more like it. A great cause, for which huge sacrifices were made, has been betrayed. What's even more infuriating is that these traitors have not been apprehended but are roaming free and enjoying the fruits of their ill-gotten gains. Corruption - and crime, its ever-present sibling - is a function of the arrogance of power.
And of course the most burning issue currently is the darkness and gloom that this government has decided to inflict on its citizens. It was more than 10 years ago that the country experienced its first electricity blackouts, and yet amazingly the government was this week still struggling to explain what the problem could be or how long we have to endure this nightmare. We are powerless on so many fronts.
These issues won't be on the ballot, but they will certainly exercise the minds of electors as they walk into the tranquility of the voting booth. What would astound a visitor from Mars, for instance, would be to hear that the party responsible for these crimes and misdemeanours is set to be returned to power with a thumping majority. That doesn't square with what democracy is supposed to be.
In an any other place, a party with that sort of record, especially one that blatantly steals from its people, would be consigned to the political wilderness, never to be returned to power again.
And yet, instead of wearing sackcloth and covering himself in ashes as a mark of repentance, President Cyril Ramaphosa, we are told, is almost as popular as Nelson Mandela was at the top of his powers. Instead of embarking on an apology campaign, he's already on what looks suspiciously like a lap of honour, certain that he'll be given a mandate to rebuild what his party has wilfully destroyed.
The ANC's plunge to purgatory seems complete and yet we're convinced - despite evidence to the contrary - that they're the chosen ones to lead us to the promised land.
We want to hold on to something. We want to believe. Which is why the ANC list of its parliamentary candidates came as a shock to many people who so desperately want to give the party one last chance. It was Ramaphosa's last opportunity to prove his honesty, to show that his message of renewal - that he's broken with the corrupt and contemptuous past - was credible.
What was maddening was that there was not even an attempt to explain this miasma, or what informed it. The fact that it jars with the narrative Ramaphosa has been trying to string since assuming office didn't seem to matter to them. It was left to the towering intellect of Bathabile Dlamini to help us make sense of it all. It was the will of the people, she opined from faraway New York.
Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane and so on, like all other public representatives, are not just the face but the soul of the party. They are the ANC. If the parliamentary representation is chock-a-block with compromised individuals, Ramaphosa has limited scope to choose a group of reputable and incorruptible ministers capable of dealing adequately with all society's running sores. One cannot expect to draw fresh drinking water from a muddied well.
Ramaphosa's supporters have been adept at moving the goalposts. Their hero, we were told, could not speak up against state capture when he was deputy president because Jacob Zuma would fire him. Wait until he becomes president, they said. Now we're told he's only finishing Zuma's term and would come into his own after the elections. But the parliamentary list seems to suggest that Zuma will continue to be the backseat driver even after the elections.
Our fixation with party lists points to a serious flaw in the system. Our political system is not accountable to the unit or cog that's the foundational basis of any democracy: the voter. The people we send to our councils and legislatures are not public representatives but party representatives. They are chosen by their parties.
The electoral system needs to change so that any individual who exercises political power - be it a dog catcher or a president - does so by virtue of direct election by the voters. Should that be the case, parties would be much more responsive to voters' wishes. Voters would not be simple bystanders as other people or parties decide or destroy their future.
Parties wouldn't dare put forward patently corrupt individuals as candidates. They'd be laughed out of court, if not run out of town. Under a more accountable system, it is doubtful whether Zuma would have been elected president, or whether his party would even have dared to put him forward as a candidate.