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Focus on South Africa’s democracy

Emmanuel Koro

JOHANNESBURG – In a year when more than 2.9 billion people in 64 countries – as well as the European Union – have already elected or will soon elect new government leaders, South Africa’s election remains unique.

An American political expert notes that South Africans vote for a political party at the national level, while in all other major democracies, citizens choose between two or more individuals competing in a defined geographic area.

“In South Africa, each political party selects parliamentarians from among its members, depending on the percentage of votes they receive in elections,” observed American public policy consultant Godfrey Harris, president of Los-based Harris/Ragan Management. Angels. Group and former staff member of the 36th President of the United States, Lydon Johnson.

“As a result, party members owe their primary allegiance in governing to an impersonal political organization and not to their fellow citizens or their conscience.

“Party rule is a common feature of authoritarian governments such as those in Russia and China, and was apparently designed in the South African constitution to make the transition from apartheid to a democracy with majority rule smoother, quicker and more manageable by the party. of the ANC.”

Harris believes this disconnect between the government and the people is part of the reason why it seems so difficult to deal with corruption in the country.

“It is as if there are two different worlds operating in parallel within South Africa: one for the leaders of the main political parties, where the spoils of government are shared, and another for everyone else,” he said.

“Members of parliamentary bodies in democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France provide voters with a connection to the wide variety of government services paid for by their taxes.

“It establishes a clear quid pro quo: I vote for candidate

“However, for South African citizens the equation has evolved in a totally different way.

“I vote for a party out of heritage, loyalty or habit, even if I know that party will likely ignore my needs when it comes to its actions in and out of parliament.”

Harris notes, however, that at least one political party in the 2024 South African election campaign appears to be trying to change the current situation.

“The United Democratic Movement is using word-of-mouth techniques to tell voters that if they give us more influence in a new government, the equation will change,” he said.

“The UDM has committed to extending the word-of-mouth connections it is making to an office at its headquarters to link its followers with national government agencies that can solve a problem, evaluate an idea or implement a suggestion from its followers. . “

Harris believes that such a connection between voters, UDM party officials and government agencies would be immensely beneficial, especially for rural communities, which have generally been ignored in the delivery of government services.

He noted that “only the UDM has recognized this need in its political manifesto. There, the UDM is committed to ensuring that rural South African communities benefit significantly from their natural resources through trade in wildlife products, trade in underground resources, carbon credits and medicinal plant benefits.”

Harris added: “In stark contrast, other parties say nothing about rural communities in their manifestos.

“To be fair, the ANC has recently committed, already during the campaign and long after the UDM manifesto was published, to do the same, but only in policy announcements that may never be fully implemented.”

The UDM is led by South Africa’s former deputy environment minister and stalwart anti-corruption fighter, General Bantu Holomisa. In his party manifesto he promised to press the new government on the need for rural communities to benefit significantly from the natural resources that abound around them.

Harris said she applauds Holomisa’s ideas “to make South Africa’s democracy more representative and find ways to incorporate rural and younger South Africans into the country’s political life.”

Harris’s first job in politics, he noted, was in 1952 as a 15-year-old receptionist in General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s campaign office in Beverly Hills, California. Eisenhower proved to be both a successful military leader and an effective politician, and he was twice elected president by the American people.

“It would be inspiring to see General Holomisa expand his political achievements to match his military successes, as Eisenhower did,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, Harris was stunned to learn in a conversation with a political operative in South Africa that “some citizens consider Nelson Mandela a failure in his service to South Africa.”

Because?

The individual said: “Mandela did not set South Africa on the path that would make it a success in the eyes of the world. Instead, Mandela tolerated the ANC’s penchant for allowing corruption as the price of establishing a fully functioning government.”

Harris said the most disappointing element of the conversation with the Mandela critic was “the realization that the individual – and probably also the majority of the electorate – does not seem to appreciate all that goes into governing a democracy.”

He said: “(Governing) is much more than simply making speeches, cutting ribbons, greeting foreign dignitaries and expressing condolences after a disaster.

“I believe that ignorance allows many of the country’s ills to worsen.”

* Emmanuel Koro is an internationally award-winning environmental journalist based in Johannesburg, who writes independently on environmental and development issues in Africa.