EDITORIAL: Is democracy still the way forward?

Lifestyle audits: “Better late than never,” jokes Ramaphosa 

Voters, stop waiting for messiah, save yourselves – panel  

South Africans should see through fearmongering by politicians and the idea that a single person or party will save the country.  

Voters must vote for values such as justice and solidarity, rather than pledging loyalty to one person or party in the 2024 general elections, in order to progress as a country. 

This was the take-home message from panellists at a discussion titled “Where to from here… The state of South Africa” at the Kingsmead Book Fair on May 27. 

The discussion was witnessed by a packed school hall of potential voters and facilitated by economist and futurist, Bronwyn Williams. Journalist and political commentator Justice Malala, Wits media studies associate professor Nicky Falkof and journalist-turned-politician Songezo Zibi, made up the panel which critically unpacked issues including fear among the citizenry and the messiah complex – the idea that a single person or party will be the saviour for the country.  

Wits professor Nicky Falkof and journalist Justice Malala listen to questions from the audience at the Kingsmead Book Fair on May 27. Photo: Seth Thorne

Author of The Plot to Save South Africa, Malala discussed the idea that good leadership can get a country through the worst of times. He used the example of Nelson Mandela stepping up when the country was at the brink of a civil war in April 1993 following the death of ANC leader Chris Hani. A “messiah” did come forward in the shape of Mandela to shape the country’s political landscape.  

Malala argued that this worked because Mandela was driven by the desire to create a prosperous country, rather than a desire for power – whereas the current leadership’s interests are rooted in political power and it lacks the will and understanding to fix the country’s problems.  

Associate professor Nicky Falkof – who described politics as being mostly driven by emotion – said that legitimate fears of violence in the country were politicised, resulting in a culture and narrative of fear which impacted race, class and gender.   

She used an example unpacked in her book, Worrier State: Risk, anxiety and moral panic in South Africa, that violence is a threat in South Africa, however, violence with white victims (who are a minority) dominates the media landscape and is presented as more gruesome than other crimes. Calling this the contemporary myth of “white genocide”, Falkof said, “The white far right has tried to convince people that the deaths of white people are far more brutal than those of anyone else.” 

This creates panic among communities in an already fearful country and politicians use this legitimate fear to mobilise support by running fearmongering campaigns claiming that only they can solve an issue that has been blown out of proportion and context.  

Author of Manifesto: A New Vision for South Africa Songezo Zibi said that the country’s political and legislative systems were “fundamentally faulty”, however, blaming the ANC was “the easy answer [whereas] we have serious structural problems that brought us here”.  

A major structural problem is the electoral system wherein constituents do not know who their representatives are. Party members are sent to legislatures and given powerful positions based on their connections to a person or party, rather than sent by their communities to represent their voices in decision-making processes.  

“[This undermines the] value of the culture of democratic participation” leaving representatives disconnected from civil society and vice-versa, said Zibi.   

The public’s interests have become lost in this disconnection between representatives and society, because the electoral system that was adopted in 1994 “created a block of faceless individuals” that the government overlooks and calls “our people”, said Zibi. 

The discussion was concluded with a few questions from the audience. With the questions all relating government shortcomings, such as electricity and education, the panelists all stressed the importance of changing the poor voter turnout in the country, and emphasised that the only way for the country to progress would be to vote those inhibiting it out of power.

FEATURED: Journalist-turned-politician Songezo Zibi makes a point at the Kingsmead Book Fair on May 27. Photo: Seth Thorne

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SLICE: Will youth call the shots in 2024 polls?  

In a time where coalitions are the new reality for South Africa, will young leaders have the upper hand in next year’s national elections? 

If the rollercoaster coalitions at municipal level over the past couple of years are a trailer for 2024’s national scramble, then we are in for a crazy ride with new key players emerging.  

The 2024 national election is going to be an interesting one in South African politics – especially for the country’s youth. With an unemployment rate of 63,9% for those aged 15 to 24, and 42,1% for those between ages 25 and 34, things are not looking great for the youth – with some becoming fed up with the status quo.  

For the first time in our 29-year democracy, the ruling ANC is largely predicted to receive less than 50% of the vote – however, these statistics fluctuate from poll to poll. This has already been the case across various large metropolitan councils, including Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekhuruleni, which has seen the frequent formation and breaking up of coalitions, resulting in unstable government.

We are likely to see this play out at a national level in 2024. Some parties, such as the Democratic Alliance and ActionSA, are already scrambling to form coalition pacts regardless of the outcome of the polls that are still 12 months away.  

The question this raises is: what will the youth’s role be in coalition politics next year? Of 43 million eligible voters, 18 million are youth, however, only 10 million or so are registered to vote. As history has shown, the turnout rate may be much lower. In addition statistics show that the lower the voter turnout, the higher the percentage of votes will be for the ANC. 

This article is not arguing the importance of the youth going out to vote. (Award-winning legal and development practitioner Karabo Mokgonyana did that very well in a Mail & Guardian article.) Instead, it considers a scenario in which the youth turned out in numbers to vote, and the ANC fell below the 50% threshold to form a government. 

Witsies cast their votes in the 2016 local government elections at the East Campus Old Mutual Sports Hall voting station. Photo: File

Would young voters vote for a youth-based agenda, and if so, who would be calling the shots in coalitions? The question is relevant as there has been a flurry of new youth-oriented political movements and parties, while existing parties with young leaders in positions of power such as the EFF are maintaining their relatively large youth support base.

On the other hand, parties such as the DA, are not only losing support in elections, but are losing prominent young leaders such as Phumzile van Damme, Mbali Ntuli, Mmusi Maimane and Bongani Baloyi. The reasons for their departures are varied and complex, but they have also pointed to the disproportionate representation of youth in decision-making structures, which has allowed those in positions of power not only to disregard their needs but to underestimate the will of the youth to do something about it. 

In terms of representation in addressing this, of the 446 members of parliament, only 51 (11%) are under the age of 35.  

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela, former DA and ActionSA leader, and now founder and president of Xiluva, Bongani Baloyi,said that he believed that young people would vote for those pushing for a “youth-oriented agenda”. This agenda focuses on prioritising pressing issues affecting the youth, such as unemployment.  

“Young people deliver better governance,” said Baloyi who, in 2013 at the age of 26, was voted as mayor of Midvaal municipality, a position he held until November 2021. His tenure was well known for clean governance. 

With a large fragmentation of political parties in the country – 696 are registered nationally and 1634 locally – youth-oriented parties can pull support away from established parties with unrelatable leaders for young South Africans and play a crucial role in coalition politics. 

With some parties already ruling out the possibility of talks with the ANC and EFF, youth-led parties such as Xiluva, Maimane’s Build One South Africa and Rise Mzansi which was launched by former journalist Songezo Zibi on April 19, can gain the upper hand in coalition talks, and to push “youth-based agendas”.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Seth Thorne. Photo: File

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GALLERY: DA Marches to ANC headquarters over loadshedding

Thousands of ANC and DA protesters took to the streets of Johannesburg on Wednesday, January 26, blocking roads around Chief Albert Luthuli House.

DA supporters swarmed Gandhi square near Luthuli House while the ANC Youth League marched around the ANC’s headquarters. The former to demand action on loadshedding and the latter to ‘protect’ their party in a counter-protest. Here’s how events unfolded and how the police managed to keep control.

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