A gatvol South Africa

Andrew Donaldson writes on the media and political reaction to the results of LGE 2021


SOME moaning and keening, I note, about the low voter turn-out for the municipal elections. Which is a little weird, seeing as it was only last week that the commentariat were bitching there was no-one worth voting for and, as a result, they really couldn’t be bothered.

More than 500 political parties are now registered with the Independent Electoral Commission. About 300 of them fielded candidates in Monday’s election. In addition, some 1 500 independents also participated in the poll. Did any of our mainstream commentators know or care who these minnows are? It seems not.

However, when it came to the bigger fish, the experts lined up on digital platforms and in the dead tree press to tell us how rubbish they all are. 

Their shortcomings are legion: too uncaring, too thieving, too inept, too domineering, too dishonest, too corrupt, too doctrinaire, too racist, too immature, too arrogant, too jaded, too ANC, too white, too male, too clever, too DA, too populist, too unhinged, too militant, too Stalinist, too fascist, too stupid, too violent, too Boer, too khaki, too orange, too colonial, too flip-floppy, too superstitious, too tribal, too Zulu, too old-fashioned, too xenophobic and, for good measure, too dull for words.

This being a South African election, there have been cock-ups galore. Delays in getting underway are routine. So are delays in wrapping things up. Late results announcements from the IEC are now par for the course. Last week, on the stump for the ruling party, former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka complained there are cadres in municipalities who “cannot count their fingers”, but the problem appears more widespread than that. With such a low turnout, though, the tallying of votes should, ideally, have been a breeze even for the remedially challenged and dispensed with, chop-chop. 

As I write (Wednesday morning), only 65 per cent of the results are in, so no precise figure of voter turn-out is available. Business Day reported that, by 7pm on Monday, two hours before polling stations were officially meant to close, eight million South Africans had cast their vote. This was little more than 30 per cent of the country’s 26.2-million registered voters. A day later, matters appeared to have improved, and the figure was pegged at almost 47 per cent. At this stage we can only guess at the final tally. 

But it won’t be much higher than that and this has prompted a mass tugging of forelocks over the implications of a low poll. Our greatly revered democracy, the pundits say, is apparently up shit creek and minority rule has once more been foisted on the masses. There is much doom and gloom and anguished brow-beating. After reading Mark Heywood in Daily Maverick on Tuesday, for example, I’m surprised that I didn’t just throw myself under a passing bus and be done with all of it.

“The vast majority,” he writes, “either didn’t register or registered but then didn’t vote. The no-vote included tens of millions of people, most of them coming from South Africa’s swelling underclass, made up of people who are young, gifted, black … and poor. It is a terrible irony that the biggest vote was the no-vote; the biggest political movement, the political party that doesn’t exist on the ballot; the most coherent statement on the elections, the incoherent abstention of the politically unorganised.”

This wasn’t “apathy”, he continued, but something far more disturbing: “Instead, what we are witnessing is a profound alienation of the masses from those who work the political system and, dare we say it, from the democratic system itself, which is held to have failed to deliver. That so many people should not have voted at a moment of crisis in South Africa, needs profound introspection, particularly by those who have political and economic power and are abusing it, or simply not using it to try and better the lives of the majority.”

Introspection. That’s another election buzzword. In the ANC, they regard it with the sort of disquiet usually reserved for a proctological procedure. 

Here, for example, is ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesman Nhlakanipho Ntombela having his no-shit-Sherlock moment: “The biggest problem we faced in these elections is that our supporters stayed at home and did not go to vote … What we need right now as the ANC in KZN is to undergo introspection.” Yes, and preferably with a good anaesthetist standing by.

It’s no consolation, I suppose, but we should remember that this was not a general election. Turnouts are traditionally low in municipal polls. 

Only 34.7 per cent of voters, for instance, took part in the May 2018 local elections in England. A year later, the turnout for the UK general elections was 67.3 per cent. That “profound alienation of the masses” with regard to management of council services is not unique to South Africa; the housing estates here may have more in common with the townships than we care to admit. 

However, the more important buzzword du jour is “coalition”. 

There is a strong likelihood that several parties will be seeking partnerships in order to effectively manage councils and local authorities. There could, according to a TimesLive report, be coalitions in at least half or as many as two thirds of the metros.

Many commentators seem rather fearful of this particular consequence of a low turnout. As the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Mikhail Moosa put it, anything less than a 50 per cent poll “would represent a political crisis far beyond internal party factions or the messy business of coalition-building”. 

The political scientist Bheki Mngonmezulu warns of possible bullying: “While it is true that the ANC, DA and EFF enjoy more support compared to the other parties, there is a possibility that smaller parties could gang up against the big three to run some municipalities.” Another commentator, Stellenbosch University’s Amanda Gouws, was more blunt: “[We] don’t do coalitions well.”

The point, though, is that there is no reason why coalitions shouldn’t work. The list of countries that are successfully run by coalitions is extensive. These are, by definition, governments where several parties cooperate to form a cabinet. Because South Africa’s democracy is regarded as “fledgling” — a euphemism for “childish” and “immature” — our coalitions have yet to get to grips with the “cooperate” bit, and so instead squabble like brats while the grown-ups look on in dismay.

The EFF, in particular, spring to mind; the redshirts’ secretary-general, Marshal Dlamini, has already warned that any party wishing to go into coalition with them should realise that this will happen only on EFF terms. This is a bit like trying to make a sponge cake by throwing a brick into the mixing bowl.

Our politics is still mired in the black-and-white, good-and-bad binary of the apartheid era. Apart from mind-numbing tedium, its adversarial nature is possibly why the big parties fared badly in the elections and why so many of those voters who did turn out on Monday threw their weight behind the smaller independent groups who focused on real issues rather than insulting one another. 

It’s the gatvol factor, and for the devolutionaries among us, this is a good thing. Local really should be lekker. And that’s what locals want. More happily, we are seeing the beginning of the end of ANC hegemony. The party’s drift towards irrelevancy in urban centres has now shifted up a gear. Overdrive beckons. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Under the weather

More bad news. The world leaders and their advisers who gathered in Glasgow this week for the Cop26 climate conference appear to have ignored the memo regarding “quote-unquote-global warming” from Institute of Race Relations policy fellow John Kane-Berman. His fevered warnings that little Greta Thunberg is some kind of unexploded Chinese incendiary device go unheeded, as do his blithe assurances that rising sea levels are the stuff of fairy tales and that the apocalypse is not on the cards just yet. 

Instead, the experts blunder on with their foolish “breakthroughs”: so far, more than 100 countries signed a treaty committing themselves to a target ending global deforestation by 2030. Governments and private companies have pledged $19-billion to fund this effort. Meanwhile, a US-European Union-brokered deal has been signed signed by over 100 countries to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by the end of the decade, thus reducing global warming by an estimated 0.2C by 2050. 

There are of course no assurances that these pledges will be met. A 2014 pledge to halve deforestation by 2020 came to nothing, Brazil being the biggest culprit here. China, India and Russia, among the world’s biggest methane emitters, have not signed the methane pledge. China, meanwhile, has dashed hopes of a deal to phase out coal use, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, while India has decided it will only achieve net zero by 2070. 

On top of this, new funding commitments still fall far short of the $100-billion a year long-promised by wealthy developed countries to help poorer nations cope with climate change. 

For all that, there is a sense of purpose and urgency about this conference that has been lacking at previous gatherings. Prime minister Boris Johnson’s welcoming address on Monday made it quite clear that the time for dawdling was now over; countries needed to act — and fast. It was one minute to midnight, he said, and we had just sixty seconds in which to save the world. It was just a pity that he was half-an-hour late in starting his speech.

Given the enormity of the task at hand, it came as no surprise that Zimbabwean delegates decided to throw in the towel at once and instead jol as if there was no tomorrow. Which could well be the case. 

Information minister Nick Mangwana posted a photograph of colleagues trundling out of a retail warehouse with trolleys that included crates of Budweiser “beer”, bottles of Glenfiddich, Johnnie Walker and Jameson, boxes of champagne and other wines and, just in case, some packets of crisps. 

“Tonight there is a massive welcome party held in honour of HE President @edmnangagwa [Emmerson Mnangagwa],” Mangwana wrote. “Glasgow is the place to be as Zimbabweans from all corners of the UK attend this shindig and welcome their President. The party will spill over to the streets tomorrow. In the UK? Join the party.”

Having a drinks party at such a time may be objectionable. Bad optics and what have you. But it’s probably not as awful as the hypocrisy of world leaders and captains of industry who flew into Scotland at the weekend on an estimated 400 private jets. Amazon boss and space knob Jeff Bezos led the pack of “green-minded” VIPs with his billion-rand Gulf Stream. Little Greta, at least, arrived by train.