ANC’s flawed electoral mechanics set to punish the party at the 2019 ballot box

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CAPE TOWN — We’ve all heard about the ANC’s two centres of power, as currently personified by Zuma and Ramaphosa, and the democratically corrosive dominance the proportional representation system gives party chiefs. Constitutional fine-tuning is needed. Yet how many of us know about the undemocratic electoral mechanics of the ANC’s own internal voting system? Here Paul Trewhela, well-placed as a former editor of the MK’s underground journal, Freedom Fighter, unpacks how skewed it is. He cites Mpumalanga as having one and a half times as many delegates as Gauteng at the ANC’s electoral conference – even though Gauteng has three times the population. As we know, that got wily Mpumalanga Premier, David Mabuza, elected as party vice president, with potentially dire future implications. Trewhela is deeply disillusioned. He says the ANC’s electoral set-up means that Mafia-type political control of rural villagers now outweighs the democratic consensus of the greatest industrial, economic and metropolitan conurbation in southern Africa. Sobering words for those currently tipsy on champagne prematurely poured to celebrate the imminent fall of leading Zuptoids, whose minions will either scarper over to Cyril’s side or head for the hills. Some revisiting of the Constitutional architecture is needed to avoid the political tendency of incumbent rulers to lean towards cronyism and fascist behaviour. This story is reproduced, courtesy of the Daily Maverick. – Chris Bateman

By Paul Trewhela*

Suppose that the ANC’s elective conference at Nasrec in December 2017 means there will be no reform within ANC of Gupta corruption and State Capture, as Professor Mzukisi Qobo has suggested in his article warning against “false optimism” in a Cyril Ramaphosa presidency.

That would mean South Africa’s future depends entirely on whether – or not – the ANC wins a further five years of majoritarian control of national government in the general elections in May 2019. Every vote for the ANC under those conditions would mean a vote for more and worse corruption and State Capture.

Cyril Ramaphosa embraces David Mabuza during the ANC’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg.  Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

This presents an acute moral choice for the broad and influential swathe of ANC members who are appalled and disgusted at the depths to which the ANC has fallen, and have tried – but so far, failed – to rescue it from its current Mafia-type crony control. How are these ANC members to conduct themselves leading to the general election?

If their project is to cleanse the ANC rather than keep it in government at any price, they have a harsh decision to make. Will they campaign for the ANC over the next 15 months, and will they vote for it?

This requires thinking about the electoral mechanics and political shenanigans that have brought the ANC to this pass, in its 106th “celebratory” year.

Read also: Graham Sell: Good luck ending state capture with SA’s proportional system

It is necessary to consider here Professor Qobo’s remark that it was Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza “who ultimately facilitated Ramaphosa’s win”.

For the future of South Africa to be decided by the politics of Mpumalanga is like imagining Italy ruled by The Godfather of its most southerly province, Sicily. This is what I tried to suggest in my article, “Mpumalanga: A thin line between democracy and fascism”.

I noted there that despite having “only 4.04-million people according to the 2011 census (by comparison with three times as many, 12.27-million, in Gauteng)”, Mpumalanga nevertheless had one-and-a-half times as many delegates as Gauteng at the Nasrec conference. Given the absurd and corrupting character of South Africa’s party-control electoral system, this means that each alleged ANC member in Mpumalanga carries nearly five times more weight in deciding the identities of ANC MPs and controlling their behaviour in the next Parliament than each ANC member in Gauteng. If the ANC forms the next government, the means that South Africa will be governed by a new form of minority rule – this time confected by the ANC.

Read also: SA’s party-list electoral system confers impunity/arrogance on ANC leaders

The politics of Bantustan would control the National Assembly. The deputy president of ANC following the Nasrec conference, David Mabuza, would be just a heartbeat away from becoming president of South Africa.

This is the result of the “Rotten Borough” system of internal party control of MPs which the ANC placed in the Constitution in its secret negotiations with the former National Party government in 1993, in which Mafia-type political control of rural villagers now outweighs the democratic consensus of the greatest industrial, economic and metropolitan conurbation in southern Africa. This grotesque and reactionary outcome reminds one of how it took the Great Reform Act of 1832 in the United Kingdom to rid the society of its oppressive electoral system during the birth-period of modern industry, in which – as Wikipedia points out – “selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron. For example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled eleven boroughs”. Each of the Duke’s 11 rural boroughs sent two servile MPs to parliament, while the huge new factory cities which were creating the modern world, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Sheffield, did not have a single one.

Open to bribery, gate-keeping and intimidation of delegates, especially more vulnerable rural delegates, it is as undemocratic today for an internal party conference in South Africa to control the National Assembly as it was for the Duke of Norfolk to dictate to the parliament of the United Kingdom two centuries ago.

A women wearing ANC regalia casts her vote during the local government elections in Hillbrow on August 3,2016. REUTERS/James Oatway

Since 1993, the ruling interests in the ANC have never been so divorced from the opinions and interests of the majority of black voters in South Africa as they are today. South Africa needs a radical reform of its electoral system in our day, just as Britain did in 1832.

If the ANC cannot reform itself – which Professor Qobo indicates is the meaning of Nasrec – then let the people of South Africa teach it a lesson. Voters in the great urban centres of Johannesburg, Pretoria/Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay and Cape Town did this in the metro elections in 2016, when they used their electoral power to send a message which the ANC has failed to heed. Voters across the nation should do the same in the general election.

Let South Africa have its own Great Reform Act. No more Rotten Boroughs, no more Rotten Provinces.

No more captured Parliament.

  • Paul Trewhela worked in underground journalism with Ruth First and edited the underground journal of MK, Freedom Fighter, during the Rivonia Trial. He was a political prisoner in Pretoria and the Johannesburg Fort as a member of the Communist Party in 1964–1967, separating from the SACP while in prison. In exile in Britain he was co-editor with the late Baruch Hirson of Searchlight South Africa, banned in South Africa.
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