Preying on the poor in 2024

Phumlani Majozi says the parties will be out to manipulate the vulnerable and the gullible to get their votes

The vulnerability of South Africa's poor ahead of 2024 election 

South Africa's national election is now a year away. Between now and then, politicians will be hard at work campaigning for votes. What that means, is that they will use their usual methods to manipulatethe vulnerable and the gullible, for votes. That will not be new, because politicians and the influential elite do it in many countries in many regions around the world. 

How Escobar manipulated the poor in Colombia 

As I've been reflecting about politicians and how they bribe the poor for votes, I was reminded of Pablo Escobar, who was a notorious Colombian drug lord in the 70s, 80s, till his death in 1993. Escobar was king of cocaine trafficking. His cartels supplied cocaine to many parts of the world. In that criminal process, he became a millionaire. With wealth came power. He became one of the most powerful people on earth. 

Escobar managed to sustain his cartels partly because Colombia was so corrupt that some of the government officials worked with him. So, it was easy for him to get away with his illegal drugs activities. 

He became a fugitive, wanted by his government, for his cruel crimes and cocaine trafficking. For him to get away with anything meant he had to craft a good relationship with many Colombians, including the poor. 

The Colombian poor adored him, mainlybecause he bought their support with some of his millions. He went to destitute communities and built schools, hospitals, stadiums, even churches. 

With his philanthropic deeds, the poor sawin him a very kind person who is willing to make sacrifices for them. They would do anything for him, including lying to their own government about any information pertaining to Pablos cartels, or his whereabouts. With bribery, Pablo won the hearts and minds of the many poor in Colombia, which obviously was anaccomplishment for him. 

Having said the above, it is clear that Escobar was a criminal fat cat who used the vulnerable, the poor, to hide from law enforcement, and to maintain his drug cartels. It worked for him. He once said the essence of the cocaine business was “Simple—you bribe someone here, you bribe someone there, and you pay a friendly banker to help you bring the money back.” Hence, he bribed the poor. 

Pablo is just one case I have elected to discuss in this column, there are many other cases of similar kind that involved other people- in politics, in sports, in media - where some people chose to use money to buy anything. 

Expect Escobar tactics from South African politicians 

Poverty is one of the worst things that can happen in any person's life. If you’re poor, not only can’t you afford to put bread on the table, some peoplewill buy you, manipulate you, use you, for their benefit. Politicians will buy you groceries worth R1000 in times of election campaigns, and then after the elections, they disappear. 

In previous election campaigns, some political parties, including the ruling party the African National Congress (ANC) have bought poor people food parcels and t-shirts. Such a disgraceful act shows how manipulative politicians are.  

Part of the problem is that South Africa's poor are not only hungry and vulnerable, they are also uneducated, and that unfortunate circumstance subjects them to different kinds of abuse by politicians. 

Lack of education amongst the poor highlights the importance of political education. As a society we must strive for a politically informed society. We must consider and implement political education programs for every South African of every race and every income class. The private sector can do this, NGOs can do this, the government can do this as well. Everybody can play a role. 

Social grants a method to manipulate voters

It's not only food parcels that are used to manipulate the poor, social grants are now a method to manipulate and buy the votes from the poor. 

The number of social grants recipients was less than 3 million in 1999, today that number is more than 18 million. This increase in social grants recipients is celebrated by the ANC, which is shameful.  

Handouts and social grants must be seen as a failure in South Africa, not progress. Every abled South African deserves a job, not a social grant, and every child deserves to be raised with the finances of his or her parents not social grants. 

You will think that it's only the ANC, and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), that speak favourably of and support social grants. No, the Democratic Alliance (DA) too supports grants.  

This is disappointing from the DA, because it would have been wonderful to have a major opposition political party arguing for an alternative to social grants. South Africa’s democracy deserves such a political stance in this matter. 

The year ahead will be interesting in South Africa's politics. As citizens we must be on the lookout for politicians who adopt Escobar’s methods to bribe us for votes.  

It is unfortunate that the poor are in a much vulnerable position. However, I will argue that being poor does not mean that you're brainless, that you cannot think for yourself. You can be poor and still make the right decision at the ballot box, without being influenced by gifts from politicians.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.