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FIKILE-NTSIKELELO MOYA: South African voting patterns defy logic

OPINION

One can understand why the election season turns otherwise intelligent men and women into automatons who say anything they think their audience wants to hear.

What is less clear is why voters would also suspend their reasoning at this time of our political cycle.

I listened with interest the other day when white callers to the Bongani Bingwa show on Radio 702 vehemently disagreed with polls suggesting that white voters were more likely to vote for the ANC this time around. That was because they took a liking to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Subsequent to that, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule dismissed the punditry and asserted that the category of voters who had kept the ANC in power, black people, would be enough to propel the party to yet another election victory.

Speaking of Magashule, how the ANC has chosen to dismiss the newly released book making strong allegations of corruption against the ANC secretary-general, and how his deputy Jessie Duarte verbally abused a journalist on live TV, suggests a party that is confident that the views of the urban, upper classes will not shift scales come the elections.

The reflex in South African social commentary spaces and on radio talk shows is to say that the ANC can behave as it does because it knows that black voters cast their votes on sentiment rather than the record of the party they entrust with state power.

This view is greatly over-simplistic. Furthermore, it pretends that white voters always make rational choices when they get the ballot paper in their hand.

Empirical evidence and even the most elementary political science shows that South African voting patterns defy logic.

If they were based only on being rational, the question would be why white voters, generally speaking, don’t trust the party under whose rule their life standards have continued to climb.

Data published by Stats SA in the last Living Conditions Survey in 2015 showed that black South Africans earned on average only about one-fifth as much as their white counterparts.

To use just one measure, annual household income, for black people stood at an average of R92,893 compared with R444,446 for whites, according to Statistics South Africa's survey.

The survey is conducted every five years and it does not take one to start dressing in a yellow suit (like the previous Statistician-General Pali Lehohla used to) to figure out that not too much would have changed come next year when another poll is done.

This brings us to the unpalatable fact that South Africans, not just black people or the poor, vote on sentimentality rather than on the record of delivery.

If white voters were as discerning as they are, they would vote for the ANC and impoverished blacks would vote against it. Yet we know that this will not happen.

The beneficiaries of how the state is managed will look elsewhere for leadership while those who are most likely to complain about how the “government has done nothing” are most likely to vote in ways that seek to return that government to power.

Politics, at least in South Africa, has replaced economics as the ultimate dismal science.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya is an independent journalist and former editor of The Mercury and The Witness.

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