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Opinions of Saturday, 13 August 2016

Columnist: Asubonteng, Bernard

Important political lessons from South Africa for Ghanaian voters

By—Bernard Asubonteng

About a week or some few days ago, South Africa held its once in every 5 years municipal elections, and the results left the ruling African National Congress (A.N.C.) party badly bruised in electoral losses. The unexpected local elections losses the A.N.C. sustained, sent a wake-up call to the party of the anti-Apartheid legend Nelson Mandela that many South Africans, especially the blacks, are fast getting tired of voting on racial or tribal lines as opposed to using their brains to vote on their pocketbooks or on economic considerations. For the first time since the post-apartheid era about twenty-two years ago, the governing A.N.C. has witnessed its worst electoral performance in any category ever. The A.N.C. was defeated in two of the South African key cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg. Besides, the party has never received electoral results far below 60% benchmark until the latest highly contested local council elections.
For an iconic political organization which understandably relies heavily on the majority-black South Africans’ votes, the abysmal performance in the recent municipal elections have unsettled the seemingly invincible resolve and the prospects of the A.N.C.’s continuing hold on power in the not-too-distant future. In South African body politic, the municipal elections are not only proudly held on party lines, but also the municipalities shape and dictate the pace of the political temperature of the nation. Needless to say, the municipal elections are consequential in that whichever party has majority of the local districts pretty much has tremendous clout regarding the country’s domestic issues. This is why after the Independent Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) announced the election results, the incumbent President Zuma and his cohorts were visibly shaken and vowed to start listening genuinely to the plight of marginalized South Africans.

In fact, many media accounts in and outside South Africa indicated that the bleak results of the elections reflected discontentment among the A.N.C.’s loyal voting bloc—blacks—because of ineptitude, corruption and arrogance of power displayed by many members of the ruling government. Moreover, many South Africans contend that the dismantling of the white-minority rule in the early 1990s hasn’t curbed the socioeconomic inequalities that were in vogue in the country prior to the fall of apartheid. Plus, government corruption is stratospheric, while violent crimes have become the new norm under the A.N.C. administration. Also, public schools are in shambles; and poverty, including high unemployment among the black population is still an all-time high in South Africa (Ref: New York Times, August 9, 2016).

Similar to many African countries’ ruling governments, the A.N.C. regimes have been playing on tribal fears and appealing to the basest instincts of the black population to cling on to all the levers of political power in South Africa. In the face of grinding poverty and hopeless job opportunities, the A.N.C. has been effortlessly winning the nation’s poor majority blacks’ support over the past two decades. The A.N.C. leadership was so sure it had blacks’ votes in a safe lockbox for years to come. Hence as a vice president in 2004, Mr. Jacob Zuma now the president of South Africa, was quoted to have prophesized that his A.N.C. party “would rule South Africa until Jesus comes back” to earth.
However, based on the trends of the IEC’s current municipal election results, it is becoming increasingly clear President Zuma’s A.N.C. may sooner than later becomes a minority party long before “Jesus comes back.” More significant to know is the growing number of the loyal supporters—blacks—of the A.N.C. who are wising up to the stark realities that it’s time to stop voting blindly on tribal lines for any political party, including A.N.C., that only pays lip-services to the sorry socioeconomic conditions of the people. In that regard, it is understandable why even in President Zuma’s native hometown of Nkandla, his A.N.C. governing party was defeated miserably by the Inkatha Freedom Party in the municipal polls. Added to the A.N.C.’s electoral miseries, is losing control of one of the historically black anti-apartheid municipalities covering Nelson Mandela Bay area to the main opposition party—Democratic Alliance---whose new mayor for the locality will be Mr. Athol Trollip, a white South African.

As can be noticed, many seismic developments unfolded in the just-ended municipal elections in South Africa; and, there are some useful takeaways for Ghanaian electorates. As Ghana is preparing for the general elections in December this year, one of the most significant factors to consider before voting for any party or a presidential candidate must be Ghanaians’ socioeconomic conditions. The first question to ask is: “Am I better off” for the past four years in terms of my pocketbook; job prospects; the children’s education; healthcare delivery system; efficient energy production or consumption (or dumsor?) and the like. The 21st century democratic system of government should not hinge on tribal politics or the fact that a particular president or presidential candidate shares the same ancestral hometown as you and I do. Probably the rejection of this primitive tribal attitude explained why over twenty years after the apartheid regime collapse, many smart black South Africans electorates seemed more concerned about everyday issues such as excessive taxations, government corruption, high cost of living…than fixating on the ruling A.N.C.’s heroic freedom-fighting past.
Now, many political analysts, some prominent A.N.C. leaders included, admit the menu of genuine political choices available to voters and the growing awareness of holding all the political parties accountable provide a bright light for vibrant democracy in South Africa. Hopefully, many Ghanaians will try to learn some few lessons from the brothers and sisters in South Africa during the upcoming general elections in December 7, 2016.

The writer can be reached at: b.asubonteng@gmail.com