The Local Elections Government 2021: The Lighter (Or Larger) Side

This brief discusses the 2021 Local Government Elections.

The elections that nobody really wanted are over. The IEC was desperate to have the election date postponed to 2022, the ANC was terrified that the polls would tear it apart and the DA was happy enough to keep clinging to its precarious mayoral seats in metros and picturesque Cape dorpies for a little while longer. However, the Constitutional Court was adamant, the law had to be followed, and the judges would not allow politicians or electoral officials any wiggle room.

Our ward in the Tshwane Metro is home to large numbers of students so it was no surprise that the EFF was the most active party buzzing around the outskirts of the voting station. The DA had a sad-looking Oom as an observer and a bright young woman under an umbrella outside. The ANC umbrella may have been covering a wilting pot plant for the all the lack of activity around it.

Inside the picturesque little fire station that was serving as a voting centre, we were presented with a proportional election ballot paper that was longer than the Magna Carta. It contained what must be the most bizarre list of political organisations ever to contest any election anywhere. The Ward Councillor ballot paper had more than a dozen candidates which was bad enough. However, some 80 parties graced the proportional ballot paper if my arithmetic is correct.

Here is a random selection of the politically hopeful, or hopeless, causes: There was a Disrupt Party (279 votes in Gauteng Province, so not much chaos caused there), and a Republican Conference of Tshwane (hopefully not Donald Trump supporters). Royalists were spoilt for choice: there was a Khoisan Kingdom and All People Party, a South African Royal Kingdoms Organization, and a Royal Loyal Progress movement. Alas no images of HM Queen Elizabeth II, or our own gorgeous Princess Charlene of Bulawayo, Benoni and Monaco, or even the new Zulu King, Misuzulu ka Zwelithini, graced the ballot paper. There was an Organic Unity Movement that was presumably aiming for the vegan vote. There was also a movement that deserves the unanimous support of the entire continent called “God Save Africa”. While the Flat Earth Society was not standing, there was a New Horizon Movement. Still, I miss the KISS and SOCCER parties from the 1990s.

The heavier hitters on the list included the ANC (liberals need not fear that the ANC will sweep up two thirds of the nation’s votes anymore). The DA, which drove me demented with robot calls from an aggressive John Steenhuisen, was against almost everything, but in favour of getting things done. The top tier was rounded off by the EFF and the Freedom Front Plus. In this election perhaps the Plus stands for their increased vote tally. Then there was Action SA, the new kid on the Gauteng Block headed by Herman Mashaba a former, and ex-DA, Mayor of Johannesburg. However, given the very low turnout, the clear winner was “NONE OF THE ABOVE” which is an even louder wake-up call for South African democracy.

A contributing factor to the low turn out may be the fact that the election was held on a Monday. Usually, South African elections are held on a Wednesday, so proclaiming a Monday as a public holiday created a welcome long weekend for people more inclined to catch up on their COVID-affected social lives than to stand in lines so that they could suck their pens in voting booths.

The campaigning had its moments: listening to the radio while driving somewhere shortly before Heritage Day, I caught a rant by an EFF supporter. The Comrade Fighter was demanding that the statue of President Paul Kruger should be removed from Church Square in the centre of Pretoria forthwith! The reason? Everybody knows that in “the eighties, Kruger was a monster who slaughtered thousands of anti-apartheid activists!” Poor old Oom Paul! Historians can accuse him of many things, but slaughtering activists and students eighty years after his death is not one of them. What makes me shudder is that the EFF rants-person is probably a student at one of the city’s fine universities. Clearly, he has not studied history at either school or in his degree courses.

The highlight of my election day was catching a moment on the rather good “Newzroom Afrika” channel. A young reporter was reporting that he had been evicted from a voting station in Orlando in Soweto (quite possibly because he gave the Election Officer too much lip) and was on the verge of being arrested. The arrest was enacted on camera outside the door of the voting station by the very large police chief of Orlando. The reporter kept clutching his microphone during the process and launched into a tirade about Freedom of the Press, Democracy, Constitutional Rights, Justice, Liberty, and “Was The Struggle All In Vain?” etc, etc. What was even more entertaining, was the fact that the camera operator was either very short or kept crouching, because while the altercation was going on, the camera was firmly focused on the Top Cop’s posterior. For some minutes the screen was filled with a vision of large blue-clad buttocks while the journalist’s voice declaimed on the iniquities of the police state and the cop implemented her arrest.

The reporter seemed to have been plonked in the back of the cop van for an hour or so to stew in his democratic juices, but when he came back on air he had not calmed down. What was worse was that when the original footage was rerun, the verbal altercation had been left untouched, but the rear view of Madam Top Cop had been censored. The screen merely showed several minutes of dancing blue-ish pixels, but the audio was carried. What happened to the camera crew is unknown, but if I were in their position, I would wish to avoid every possible traffic violation, or legal infringement of any sort, within the jurisdiction of Madam Top Cop for some time to come.

John Steenhuisen did emerge from his robot-call lair to proclaim the glories of the outright DA victory in the uMgeni municipality situated around Howick in the KZN Midlands. This is an interesting one: The N3 runs through the heart of this area and if you cast your minds back to July, that critical artery was trashed and paralysed in the riots after Jacob Zuma was arrested. Perhaps this incident was burned into local minds. Also, the main town of Howick has been overtaken in size by the vast collection of retirement villages (collectively known as the Ambers), that spread over the hills to the north of the town. They must provide the DA with a solid voter base that can swing an election when the inhabitants of Mphopomeni township chose not to vote.

The election has revealed the parlous state of the ANC. I complained to a senior apparatchik in the Tripartite Alliance that there was no ANC candidate for Mayor in Tshwane or anywhere else on the ballot paper, or on any election poster. The apparatchik was gloomy: Any individual that the ANC put up as a mayoral candidate in any municipality before the election, would have caused an instant split, internal chaos, and probably resulted in public violence. So, the party chose to postpone the internal bloodletting until after the voting. While I think that the ANC was being less than open with the electorate, perhaps it does not matter too much. In the seventy-odd hung municipal councils, mayors are going to emerge after the primordial process of backstabbing and arm-twisting in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms, regardless of who has been grinning down from lamp posts. This is called The Coalition Building process.

E.M. Forster, writing as a liberal who found liberalism crumbling beneath him in the 1930s, published a series of essays under the title Two Cheers for Democracy. Winston Churchill said that democracy was positively the worst system of government ever devised, except for all the others that have been tried.

I think that all we can do now is close our eyes and say two Amens.

Graham Dominy
Research Fellow: Helen Suzman Foundation

This article expresses his personal views and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Helen Suzman Foundation