Our current leaders see the state as a source of livelihood, rather than an instrument for changing lives

Political analyst Professor Ndletyana comments on the South African political landscape ahead of Election Day

A snapshot of present-day South Africa portrays a country in mid-pandemic, preparing to take to the polls amidst a turbulent economic climate. The local government elections, set to take place on 1 November, will see 325 political parties vying for governance, among them the African National Party (ANC), the Democratic Alliance (DA), and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). This election will test whether current ruling party, the ANC, is able to maintain its grasp on the majority vote, as well as provide a gauge of the extent of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s support. 

This is the opinion of Mcebisi Ndletyana, Professor at the University of Johannesburg. Ndletyana is an author and political analyst who holds positions on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Administration and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and is a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative. 

His comment formed part of an interview with award-winning journalist, Bruce Whitfield, the host of PSG’s Think Big webinars series. Each webinar features a digital dialogue with a high-profile personality on some of the country’s burning issues. 

“These elections will provide a strong indicator of how contesting parties will perform on a national level. Today’s political environment is a contentious one, characterised by social and economic hardships against the backdrop of wide scale corruption. Idealists could argue that the solution is for corrupt politicians to be flushed out of the system completely and to be replaced with ethical leaders. However, this is easier said than done,” says Ndletyana.

Ndletyana argues that negative sentiments towards the ANC are no indication that supporters will switch their vote. He points to the 2016 scenario, where in Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Bay, traditional ANC voters did not switch their votes in protest of poor service delivery. Instead, they simply exercised their democratic right to stay away from the polls, and in this sense, “punished” the ruling party for their negligence. 

The job of the opposition is to translate bad sentiments towards the ANC, into positive sentiments towards themselves, and ultimately, votes on Election Day. Therein lies the greatest challenge – a hurdle that Ndletyana argues the DA has all but given up on, given their rollout of controversial posters in Phoenix, which were branded as racist. Evidently, the DA has set its sights on minority groups, hoping to rally enough support to overwhelm the largely black constituent of ANC voters. 

As he commented: “There were a number opportunities that the civil unrest in Durban and parts of Gauteng presented – opportunities that the DA has largely failed to exploit. The DA has suffered reputational damage by appealing to people’s base instincts, rather than discrediting the ANC.”

When asked to make a prediction on the success of the EFF in smaller provinces, Ndletyana asserted that the answer lies in the voting constituent upon which the EFF relies, which is primarily unemployed youth. This constituent, however influential and radical in their political position, only make up a small segment of the population. 

“Unfortunately, although the EFF makes some interesting and attractive points, their political rhetoric at times borders on rudeness, which is particularly offensive to older voters and makes it very difficult for them to win the buy-in of a larger segment of society. I do not see the EFF winning significant ground even in smaller provinces going forward, unless they do so as part of a coalition,” he argued. 

Ultimately, what is “depressing,” about the current political landscape is that South Africa’s current politicians “see the state as a source of livelihood, rather than an instrument for changing lives, and this will always be to the detriment of the poor and disenfranchised,” he adds.

Concluding the interview was PSG’s Head of Internal Audit Vilola Gounden, who expressed her appreciation for the transparency and candidness that Professor Ndletyana demonstrated in the webinar. “When it comes to assessing the political landscape and trying to predict the future of our beautiful country, we simply don’t have a crystal ball. Instead, we can only rely on informed opinion. We hope that this session has helped our audience to gain a glimpse of what the future holds if we take control and become an engaged society, ready to cast our votes on 01 November,” she said.

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