A man called Vote as Metaphor for  South Africa

Kayode Komolafe

It was Freedom Day again in South Africa on April 27, a few weeks to the general elections held last week.

This year,  South Africans actually  celebrated a milestone: 30 years ago the first post-apartheid election was held and the  heroic symbol  of struggle for multi-racial democracy  in the country, Nelson Mandela, was elected president. A new constitution was also introduced on that day.

It also happened that on that day of the first election in 1994, a child was born in the household of Mr. Ernesto Ubisi and Mrs. Mariama Ubisi, both Mozambicans immigrants in a  poor  village called Lillyade in the Mpumalanga province of   South Africa.

The family of Ubisi elected  to name the new arrival Vote. At 30, Vote now works as a waiter in the South African tourist industry.

Mr. Vote Ubisi spoke  in a television interview on the Freedom Day  as  the campaigns were in full swing for the last week election. Vote  was excited that he would vote in the election. Remarkably, Vote was hopeful about the future of South Africa. On the one hand,  Vote  cherished the fact of being born into freedom. As he put it, he had no memory of the odious past of apartheid. On the hand he commented  that 30 years after apartheid  potable water was not still available in the village. That was Vote’s graphic  way of making the point that  the dream of an equitable society was  yet to be fully realised. For joblessness, inequality, violent crimes  and official corruption are still the defining features  of the South African society.

To be fair to  the country’s leadership in a statement to the nation on the Freedom Day, President Cyril Ramaphosa honestly  put the problems mentioned in the foregoing into a sharp focus.  

In many respects, Vote’s  views were representative of the electoral mood in the country. It was a mixture of a deep sense disappointment  in many constituencies and flickers of optimism  in several others.

Little surprise then that  this trend  was amply reflected in the results of the elections  announced  at the weekend. The African National Congress (ANC), the party of Mandela, lost the electoral majority for the first time in 30 years. The party that was once clearly dominant will now be compelled to go into a coalition to govern. Although the ANC still has the highest percentage of the votes, it is now in  its weakest position politically  in three decades.

The party needs 50% of the votes to form a government alone. Unfortunately, it scored only 40.2% as against   21.8% of the Democratic Alliance (DA); 14.9% of the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party and the 9.5% of the youthful Economic Freedom Front (EFF). Both MK and EFF are breakaway political forces from the ANC. The MK is a political platform  hurriedly put together for former President Jacob Zuma to return to power while the EFF is more ideologically opposed to the socio-economic  policies of the ANC government.  The DA has been a long-standing opposition with a liberal agenda. It has its  provenance in the  old National Party of the apartheid era.

Critics of ANC had long  predicted this electoral decline of the great organisation which transformed most admirably  from a liberation  movement into a robust political party.

The failure of  the ANC  to tackle poverty decisively  despite the party’s past electoral fortunes is, perhaps, the major factor for the downward trend in its popularity. The issues of the elections were the surging crime rates, poor power supply, official corruption and widening inequality. All these problems have persisted despite South Africa being rated as the economy with the  largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa for years. For some time,  South Africa was the toast of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. As its economic managers embraced neo-liberal reforms, South Africa became a model of how to  get things right in economic terms. Now, the lesson is that the application of market forces alone cannot solve the problems of poverty and inequality. If anything, neo-liberal excesses  can only deepen poverty.  The allies of ANC in the days of th struggle for freedom – the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU)  – warned against  this trend, which came to a  climax under Ramaphosa. Party leaders such as the  late Winnie Mandela pointed to the huge numbers of black people still in poverty and the increasing alienation of the ANC from a segment of its base. 

All told, the good news is that democracy has triumphed again  in South Africa despite Zuma’s criticisms of the results. The people’s will has prevailed and the election was conclusive.

As the ANC ponders its coalition options, it may need to also look ahead to correct the errors that produced the electoral mood of which Mr. Vote Ubisi ‘s commentary was a metaphor.

Related Articles