Let's Think

Greater test for SA’s democracy comes after 3 August

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With the eruption of political violence in the run-up to the 3 August municipal elections South Africa has entered the most testing six weeks for its democracy since 1994, but the greater test still lies ahead.

All indications, from opinion polls and social media activity to clashing pronouncements emanating from different factions and parties inside the governing ANC alliance, are that the ANC will suffer set-backs in the elections. This includes loss of control in a number of municipalities.

The party does look very vulnerable, especially in the larger metropolitan centres. Of these, losing Tshwane would particularly be a heavy psychological blow. It would leave the control of both the legislative (Cape Town) and administrative (Tshwane) capitals of the country under the control of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

If the loss of the mayoral candidacy by one faction in the ANC saw parts of Tshwane go up in flames and at least five people lose their lives in riots, how will the party of some of its supporters react to losing control of the city as a whole?

And, while Tshwane became the dominating example of ANC-driven political violence, it is by a long shot not the only example. Neither has the violence been restricted to internal ANC strife.

In the latest example of violence, members of the Congress of the People (COPE), campaigning at Swartruggens in North West, had stones thrown at them by members of the ANC.

Both the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)  and the DA have had their campaigns disrupted and there have been clashes between ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) supporters in KwaMashu in Durban.

Deeper longer lasting problem

The lack of proper separation between the executive and administrative arms of government and absence of a fully professionalised civil service, combined with an aggressively implemented ANC policy of cadre deployment in bureaucracies where it governs, could prove to be deeper, longer lasting problem in municipalities where other parties take control after 3 August.

The DA already experienced this problem after it took control of Cape Town in March 2006 and found it difficult to deal with a corps of senior officials appointed by the previous ANC local government.

The result was a battle before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration to seek a balance between the prescriptions of Sections 197(3) and195(4) of the Constitution.

Section 197(3) states: “No employee of the public service may be favoured or prejudiced only because that person supports a particular political party or cause.”

Section 195(4) in turn states that that some members of the public service could be appointed “on policy considerations” although legislation must regulate such appointments.

In short, the civil service generally must be non-political, but strategic appointments can also be made to ensure the smooth implementation of the policies of the government of the day. And the net result was that the DA was challenged to ensure that over time it could give effect to its own policies.

Looking forward

Since 2006, the ANC has become more aggressive in implementing its own internal policy of cadre deployment, often strategically from factions supporting President Jacob Zuma. It was often done in terms of an announcement in 2012 by ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe of “a decade of the cadre”.

If the DA should win the election in Tshwane, as looks likely, and /or other municipalities presently ruled by the ANC, it can expect to experience the problems of Cape Town in 2006 ten times over.

The ultimate test for a democracy and its constitution is if it can deliver a smooth and peaceful transition from one government to another.

Added to the problems mentioned so far in this article, there still remains the possibility that, despite the recent Constitutional Court ruling making the election possible in the absence of verifiable addresses for many voters on the voters roll, some court challenges of election results may lie ahead if manipulation of the situation is suspected to have taken place.


The ultimate test for South Africa’s democracy is likely to last for some time after election day and some of the present problem areas might even intensify, making the national election of 2019 the really big one.

Also read: SA democracy in brouble  all parties to blame

by Steve Whiteman

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