Election’24: New faces, lingering anger, and the quest for genuine change – Solly Moeng

Amidst Constitutional Court-ordered amendments to South Africa’s Electoral Act, the 2024 elections witness an influx of new faces drawn by dissatisfaction with the African National Congress (ANC) misgovernance. While some seek personal gain, others genuinely aspire to remedy the nation’s woes. Confusion abounds about the motivations of these entrants, as political discourse focuses on personalities rather than substantive issues. Lingering anger post-apartheid spans racial lines, complicating the quest for a unified and equitable political landscape. The electorate’s choices will shape the nation’s future, demanding leaders with emotional maturity, empathy, and a commitment to genuine change.

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By Solly Moeng

Recent Constitutional Court ordered amendments to South Africa’s Electoral Act might still be facing legal challenges for not having gone far enough to create an equitable space for smaller, newer, parties and independent candidates to participate fully in the coming elections but, one thing is certain, the 2024 electoral contestation is already seeing the entrance into this space of numerous faces that were hitherto never imagined to one day be part of it. 

Thanks to the disastrous misgovernance of the African National Congress (ANC) over the years, many saw an opportunity to enter the political space to have their turn to eat, to be closer to the trough, while others felt forced by the deteriorating socio-economic and political circumstances to divert from their established professional trajectories and enter the dreaded political space in honest quests to save their country the best way they believe they can. But only their acts and utterances over time – if the electorate lets them in – will unmask their real intentions.

So, there will be a level of confusion as to the bona fides of many of the new entrants, with many asking whether they’re entering the space out of a genuine drive to be part of the needed national healing or because they cannot afford to be left out from the eating. The confusion would not be unfounded, as the ANC has failed dismally to demonstrate to South Africans that entering politics in South Africa is, and should be, regarded as an honour to be part of elected men and women who, despite their differences in perspective and approach, would be driven only by their collective desire to stop their country from falling irretrievably over the precipice.

Going by the personal mudslinging already taking place in South African politics – probably not much different from other vibrant democracies around the world, there is still too little attention being paid to the substance of what has gone wrong and what needs to change. Some make it into the space through colourful oratory, storytelling, and dance, even when they have no alternative plan to sell to the electorate. Others do so on the basis on single issues over which they have, understandably, become angry over the years.

The truth is that it is becoming harder to find South Africans who are not angry over something. Those who are old enough to have been around when apartheid formally ended and a new democratic era was heralded, led by the inimitable Nelson Mandela who was armed with a magic smile, irresistible personality, a new colourful flag and, in 1996, a brand-new Constitution that was hailed the world over as the most progressive – especially for African standards – feel deeply betrayed. Those who were either too unborn to witness the festivities or too young to understand what they were all about, are also angry. 

Young black South Africans are angry because, for many, the lived material experiences of their parents have either not changed or worsened since 1994. They have become politically otherised even as they were being used as voting fodder for the political insiders who saw their material conditions improving, with many becoming instant millionaires thanks to proximity to the (mis)governing political elite.  In their case, the political elite has mastered the art of using their historic pain of racial subjugation and everything that entailed as a tool for emotional manipulation. Their pain, together with their hopes, have been weaponised to hate fellow South Africans who do not look like them and to place all the blame at their doorstep for their perpetually sorry lives. Sadly, this has continued to bear sweet political fruits for the political manipulators.

Young white South Africans and, increasingly, Coloured and Indian minorities, have also felt the brunt of race-based policies aimed to reverse the pains of apartheid. But “reversing the pains of apartheid” by progressively reversing the perceived material well-being from those who – by their racial identity alone – are assumed to have more to give to those who – by their racial identity alone – are assumed to have less was always going to have unintended casualties. During apartheid, there was a disastrous racial hierarchy that started with Whites at the top, followed by South African Chinese who were regarded as “honorary Whites”, then Indians, Coloureds and, at the bottom, (African) Blacks. This is the trend that race based policies were designed to reverse, not stop. Reverse. 

The drafters of South Africa’s race corrective policies assumed that all individuals classified as Whites, Indians, and Coloured were necessarily materially better off than those classified as Black African. In practice, this has proven to be false because there are many painfully impoverished Coloured communities around the country, yet their plight has not always received the attention it deserved from post-apartheid authorities. 

It is for this reason that many in Coloured communities continue to feel unfairly otherised, that while they were regarded as “not white enough” during the harsh years of apartheid, they are now regarded as “not black enough” in the democratic era. It is hard to argue against this feeling when there have been several cases of Coloured professionals being denied government jobs, even for teaching positions, on the basis that they were not quite black, as in Black African. 

Don’t ask me, it’s too complicated, South African complicated. No, in fact, it is not. In South African political parlance, one is Black African if they are considered be full negroid without mixed heritage. They become Coloured if their blood has been mixed. It’s almost like a South African version of the notorious “one drop rule” apparently historically used in parts of America to separate White from Black. So, it is complicated.    

To heal from the failed corrective policies of the past 30 years, some of which seemed stubbornly inspired by a long dead Soviet era way of thinking, South Africa will need a lot more than a replacement of one bunch of governors by another. It will need an almost wholesome institutional review to ensure that none of what has been allowed and enabled to happen over, at least, the past two decades, never gets to happen again. Where institutions of democracy that were trusted to withstand criminal onslaught have shown to be vulnerable to weakening and repurposing to benefit sectoral interests of criminals in politics and their conniving private sector partners, reforms must be made and more checks and balances introduced, including in the powers vested in the country’s presidency.

Will the new coalition of (hopefully) new leaders that will emerge to lead this troubled land demonstrate requisite emotional maturity, balance, empathy, and self-restraint to act only in the best interest of the country and all South Africans or will they give in to the temptation to simply carry on where the current lot would have left of? 

Much is at stake. It’s all in the hands of the voters. Time will tell.      

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