KENNETH MOKGATLHE: The people have the power, not political formations

OPINION

The disruption of voter registration in Naledi, Soweto, over the weekend seems to have been the only option available to the community to get their message across. Some residents of this Gauteng township claim to have been without electricity for more than two years and that government has failed to attend to the matter as urgently as possible.

What happened in Naledi resembles the general frustrations of the people of South Africa, where more than 7.8 million are unemployed, municipalities throughout the country fail to deliver water and sanitation, and we’ve seen the absolute collapse of many municipalities that have failed to meet their financial obligations.

President Cyril Ramaphosa should acknowledge that his party, the African National Congress (ANC), has been distant from the people. The government (MPs, ministers, MECs, and councillors) are out of touch with reality. In their heads, they believe that the country is doing much better, but the reality on the ground does not reflect that.

Why would the people of Naledi and nearby neighbourhoods disrupt the process of voter registration instead of voting those who failed them out of office? It is because the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), government (through the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs), and political parties have not done anything to initiate voter-education campaigns.

Voter-education campaigns will conscientise people to start realising that political parties have no power. It is the people who have power. It is the people who are the bosses or masters of government, and not the other way round. They are accountable to the people, not the other way round. There is no need to yell or insult the politicians who have failed the people - what is important is to arm yourself by ensuring that you are a registered voter so that you can use your vote as a weapon to disarm those that you think do not deserve to run for public office.

When I was the leader of the student movement, we used to tell fellow students (voters) that it would be myopic to expect that the mind that broke would be the one that fixes. It was equated to a quote by one of the greatest physicists of all time, Albert Einstein, who said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Despite people perpetually losing confidence in the ANC, the party remains popular and controls the majority of municipalities in the country. This does not suggest that people who keep voting for the ANC are stupid or dull, there are a number of logical reasons behind this, which include lack of voter education.

Democracy should not only mean to vote for the ANC, it should mean that there are various choices for one to look at and see what is compatible with their beliefs. It is quite disheartening to see people disrupting a fundamental human right - the right to vote for anyone - from the many.

Rightly or wrongly, people have been made to believe that it was exclusively the ANC that fought for us to be able to vote. The struggle against colonialism and apartheid emerged long before the ANC was formed in 1912, it was black people fighting against a foreign system that was imposed violently against their will.

Many people from various political parties (including the ANC, Azapo, the PAC, and SACP) as well as those who were not affiliated with such political formations sacrificed their lives in order for us to be able to exercise this important liberty. It saddens and infuriates me to watch people destroying what Sobukwe, Biko, Tiro, Mashinini, and others advanced.

In addition to the scenes in Naledi, another heart-breaking incident came out of KwaDukuza, Kwazulu-Natal, where it is alleged that a group of ANC members attacked the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members who were on their election drive to encourage eligible voters to register during the weekend’s voter registration.

There is a strong sense of political intolerance leading up to the 2021 local government elections, and political parties should condemn every little behaviour which seeks to make a mockery out of our young democracy.

We should learn to be tolerant of each other, even if it means that we do not share the same values, we have to co-exist to show political maturity. What is important is not political formations, the residents are the primary stakeholders who stand to lose or benefit from municipal elections.

Local government elections are the most essential on two fronts. First, because the people are able to directly elect their leader, unlike in the national elections where the party with the majority of seats gets to decide who is going to be the head of state. The second front is that local government has a direct relationship with the people as they serve them daily, collecting garbage, electricity, water and sanitation, and other responsibilities.

Without any doubt, the ANC will again win most of the country’s municipalities. They should try to change how they have been doing things and prioritise service delivery rather than wasting time bickering about awarding of tenders and jobs for pals, or worse, fighting factional battles at the expense of municipal resources as we have been watching.

Make service delivery work.

Kenneth Mokgatlhe is an independent writer, social and political commentator. He holds a BA honours in political science from the University of Limpopo. A former PAC spokesperson, Mokgatlhe is currently studying teaching at the University of South Africa.

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