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Learning from Madiba’s enclave

N  OT many people are cut out for politics of acrimony and mudslinging. Fundamental human rights entails freedom of association in all regions and climes but curtailed in practical realities world-wide. Without independent candidacy, Nigerians are really armstronged and politically coerced to belong to perhaps ‘five fingers of a leprous hand’ as sarcastically described by the late Cicero of Esa Oke, Chief Bola Ige, while expressing his disgust with Nigerian political parties.  Of all the municipalities, the Western Cape had the highest number of parties – 76 – which contested election for seats in the council. South Africa is, indeed, a multi-party system.

Also of the 855 independent candidates, 86 percent are men and only 14 percent are women. No doubt, the rate of women participation in South African politics and electoral processes compared with several other African nations is commendable.

Despite all preparations for the election by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which recruited 240,000 ordinary South African citizens who were trained for between five and ten days to conduct the election, according to Mr. Glen Mashinini, the Commission’s Chairman, he too was worried with hideous aspects of the electoral process. With high rate of electoral violence which claimed as many as 25 lives before the actual election day, the political milieu of South Africa is a bit ugly! Rigging too was not left out of the electoral misdemeanor as four IEC officers were fired after allowing people to vote illegally in the special request for special voters.

It is interesting to note that some communities decided not to vote at all. While some blocked access road to their areas, some others just ignored the process and rather occupied themselves with something else.  The excuses for apathy vary too.   To some, for upward of five weeks, there was no water supply to their vicinity, thus they could not rationalise taking time out to vote for politicians who care not or less about their welfare.  Some communities believed that the ANC, the  ruling party in the country, had failed them because of glaring manifestations of corruption in the Jacob Zuma-led national government.

This necessitated Mr. Thabo Mbeki, a one-time President of South Africa from ANC to engage in last minute consultations with the candidates of the party to put in their best.  He also met with leaders of the opposition parties, most especially EFF, which broke out of ANC to cooperate with Jacob Zuma government in case of imperative of forming coalition after the epic battle election. His move was regarded as a kind of damage control with the popularity of ANC waning.

Undoubtedly, the 2016 municipal poll in South Africa was a referendum on national government; and a dress rehearsal for 2019.   Analyst believed that it was also a litmus test for the ANC, which had been in government since the collapse of apartheid.

Few days to the election, my conversation with taxi drivers and commoners on the street showed that the ANC will shrink when the election results are released.  Opinion polls too which is in the words of Martin Williams, a national daily columnist of The Citizen of South Africa,  may not be trusted to demonstrate that DA may displace ANC at the polls.  This did not happen as ANC only shrink at the polls result.  If pollsters were accurate, the world wouldn’t have been surprised when a majority of British people decided to quit the European Union, or when the Conservative Party won the 2015 UK general election.  Polls can be spectacularly wrong with the recently conducted municipal polls.

Let me add that as South Africa faced the August 3 local government election with the fiercest build-up ever seen since the dawn of democracy, political parties were at each other’s throats and racism reared its ugly head too.  If ever there was a time when South Africa and the world needed Nelson Mandela, it was in the last election.  The voting pattern glaringly demonstrated this too.  The white dominated Cape Town voted en mass for the Democratic Alliance (DA), a white-dominated party.  ANC only had marginal lead in rich cities that harbor big investments of whites such as Johannesburg, Pretoria, among others.

South Africa is endowed with national wealth as well as well-developed infrastructure; its relative technological advancement could allow its people to pursue and live a comfortable economic life.  But not everyone can find that comfort zone.  There is real social and economic divide in terms of not only the wide gap between the rich and the poor, but between the rich white and poor black.  South African blacks got flag independence, but their economy is still in the hands of the whites who own the big investments.  In Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, among other major cities, one can see affluence and squalor pari-passu.  The system seems to have sentenced the blacks to a life of being hewers of wood and fetchers of water.

Conclusively, on the polling day, the ANC tried to get supporters to the electoral boots by hiring 783 taxis across the city of Nelson Mandela Bay.  But this effort was not really helpful because voters seem to have made up their minds to vote otherwise.  ANC failed woefully in that metro.

While in Madibo’s enclave, I took particular interest in the media coverage of the elections both print and electronics.  Expectedly like in most developed societies, they were objective and announcing results as they trickled in before official announcements by IEC on Saturday, August 6.  Eventually, no discrepancy between the officially announced results and the ones the media had announced.

In the final analysis, the South African system allows virile opposition; no municipal was with inconclusive election. The only one – Johannesburg – which was not ready by 9.00 p.m when final results were being announced, was not allowed to hold down the electoral commission nationally.         Without gainsaying, Nigeria still has few things to learn from Madiba’s enclave.

(Concluded)

  • Dr. ‘Gbade Ojo is an associate professor of comparative politics, UNILORIN and currently the Chief of Staff to Oyo State Governor.