COMMENT

The Idiots Party

Andrew Donaldson writes on some of those at the bottom of the IEC's election results table

A FAMOUS GROUSE

___STEADY_PAYWALL___

WE should not think of them as losers — everyone’s a winner, they say, in a democracy — but the smaller parties have been very shouty and a sizeable “coalition of the wounded”, as they’re cruelly described, is stirring at the bottom of the election results table.

Apparently led by Mzwanele Manyi, the former Jimmy whose African Transformation Movement has managed to secure a seat in the National Assembly, the little guys have been batting on about irregularities, court challenges and doing the damned thing all over again.

How, you may wonder, did we miss placing our mark next to the International Revelation Congress the first time round? Was it the slithering creepiness of founder Thinawanga Mammba’s name? 

Or his Limpopo-based party’s approval of assaulting children when they misbehave and their call that “retired professionals” from the former homelands be deployed as civil servants? 

What about the South African Maintenance and Estate Beneficiaries Association? What was it about this bunch of funeral directors and life insurance salesmen that was the kiss of death for voters? Surely their position that politicians should not meddle in the affairs of traditional leaders is entirely reasonable and worthy of popular support?

Then there’s the People’s Revolutionary Movement. Its stance against abortion, prostitution, foreigners and “those who promote Sodom and Gomorrah in the land of our kings and queens” was entirely in synch with the global populist surge. The crude nationalism and homophobia certainly got them the headlines. 

Why, then, were the PRM ignored at the polls?

There are many other parties in a similar position, but you get the idea. All of them minnows, true, but there’s nothing smallanyana about their grumbling, most of it directed at the Independent Electoral Commission. 

As Manyi told eNCA, the body that had been tasked with ensuring procedural efficiency and the very “sacredness” of the elections was, alas, “faulty at many levels”. 

The “indelible” ink for marking voters’ thumbs was nothing of the sort, meaning that a handful of people were able to vote twice or maybe more. Polling stations did not open on time. There were not enough of ballot papers at some stations. Queues were unnecessarily long for a number of other reasons.

And so it went. This seemingly laissez-faire attitude with regard to security measures drew considered comment from Mandy Weiner, the “specialist” News 24 reporter:

“Now is not the time to panic. But it is the time to talk about the alternatives, regardless of how radical they might be. As a nation, we tend to have an ingrained faith in the Electoral Commission, a legacy of its success in pulling off the unimaginable in 1994. It’s something of a holy cow, lauded locally and internationally for its reputable handling of polls. Perhaps we don’t place it under sufficient scrutiny or push it to innovate instead of sticking to the safe tried and tested measures of the past.”

Weiner argues that paper ballots are “quaintly archaic” in an increasingly digital environment and that “it is anachronistic to still be using a ball point pen to make a cross on a slip of paper”.

Such talk of “radical” alternatives is commendably in keeping with the adventurous spirit of Tomorrow’s World and other educational science programmes we may have seen on TV back in the 1990s. But there’s a simple enough reason as to why we should be wary of going electronic: George W Bush, Florida, 2000. 

So, speaking as a nation myself, I’d stick with the tried and tested. It usually works.

Elsewhere, our attention has been drawn to the fact that there were 48 parties on the ballot paper; a “record number” of contestants, according to some reports. 

This however is nothing compared to the 800-odd choices confronting voters in the Democratic Republic of Congo when, after years of civil war, they went to the polls in July 2006. According to photographer Guy Tillim, who covered the election in Kinshasa and elsewhere, there were 33 presidential candidates alone. 

“The ballot,” he later wrote, “was an amazing six-page poster-size document with pen pictures of all the candidates that were hard to recognise. The campaign sloganeering and banners did not say ‘Vote Adam Bombole, Health for All’, for example, but ‘Vote Adam Bombole, page 3 No 438’.”

It’s not a competition, obviously. But, even so, there are disturbing insinuations that a number of our smaller parties should not have taken part in the elections, and that, frankly, they’re wasting our time.

Columnist Tom Eaton has tweeted, “OK, so now can we agree that any party that got 0.1% or less represents almost nobody? And that, from here on, interviewing such a party on political matters, or reporting its latest attempt to get noticed, is obvious, cynical clickbaiting?”

This is an extraordinarily illiberal sentiment, especially from a respected commentator like Eaton. It’s a bit like saying we should only read books by best-selling authors. Politics, and life in general, would be so much duller if we shut out and ignored the mad crazies on the margins of the mainstream, the lone wolves who follow their own renegade paths. 

Earlier this week, for example, the Times of London ran an obituary on Lord Toby Jug, who broke away from Screaming Lord Sutch’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party to form the Eccentric Party and contest many local and national UK elections under the slogan, “Don’t be a mug, vote Toby Jug.”

Many of his policies seemed eminently sensible. Jug had plans to introduce a two-day working week and a five-day weekend. To further higher education, he suggested the construction of taller buildings. He would reduce immigration figures, he said, by placing giant photos of comedian Russell Brand and extreme right-wing columnist Katie Hopkins at airports “to discourage foreigners from entering Britain”.

The Eccentrics were probably the only party ever to have an electric guitar as a deputy leader, Brenda the Fender. Jug did once offer to stand down as leader, offering the position to Tory MP Boris Johnson in 2015 should he wish to defect. Jug later had second thoughts. “I went round with a jug of water and a comb to tidy his hair,” he said. “But he’s too much on an extremist for us — a tad too bonkers.”

Although he never won a seat, Jug did poll more votes than two Labour candidates in council elections in Cambridgeshire 2009. This is the sort of success that our own lunatic fringe can sadly only dream of.

But our little parties certainly do punch above their weight when it comes to the delusional and unhinged. Nothing says “insanely quixotic”, for example, quite like making a grand entrance on a donkey-drawn cart, which is how Black First Land First’s Andile Mngxitama and BLP deputy Zanele Lwana pitched up at the party’s “homecoming” rally in December last year.

Such cruelty to animals is regrettable. But we should perhaps expect no better from a man who has stated that he will slaughter the pets of his white opponents. That’s after he has forced Bowser and Kittikins to witness the despatch of their owners. 

My own personal favourite is Hlaudi Motsoeneng. I regard him as a modern folk hero, a true idiot of our times. His origins are shrouded in mystery, and we still don’t know where he came from, Phuthaditjhaba in the Free State or Thaba Bosiu in Lesotho. 

We do however know his mother was a sangoma, which may explain some of the later visionary ranting that he is destined to one day rule the country and do “great things” with it. 

He got his first taste of political power from Kenneth Mopeli, the chief minister of Qwa Qwa. The troubling dreams came soon after that, and he duly launched on the world. Before long, he was throwing his weight around at the SABC’s Bloemfontein offices. 

There, legend has it, Motsoeneng owned three mobile phones: one for work, and the others to communicate directly with Ivy Matesepe-Casaburri and Ace Magashule, both future premiers of the province. 

Had there been more friends, there probably would have been even more phones, and he’d be strutting about the editorial floor with a briefcase brimful with Nokia bricks and Sony Ericsson flip jobs, every one a hot line to somebody important somewhere.

Now, of course, there’s no-one more important than he.

Hopefully, that insurmountable Motsoeneng self-confidence — some would say mental illness — has survived the drubbing his African Content Movement received at the polls and he’s planning something miraculous for the 2024 elections. Things could be rough by then, and we’ll need objects of derision.

___

If you enjoyed this article, and appreciate what Politicsweb does, please consider becoming a supporter. To do so click here.