Friday, May 1, 2009



Mondli Makhanya
Apr 25, 2009

There are two women who have stood head and shoulders above us all in the past few months.

Their names are Brigalia Bam and Pansy Tlakula, respectively the chairman and the CEO of the Independent Electoral Commission.

Where there was bruising and fighting all around them, they were figures of dignity, just getting the job done. When there were attempts to strong-arm and sway them in certain directions, they waved the rule book and stuck to their guns. In a stressful time they maintained their cool.

One of my 2009 election memories will be of watching Tlakula televised at a media conference insisting that the IEC had not short-changed voting districts of ballot papers.

“I still do not know if that is fact or fiction. .. Nobody came to us and said that they ran out,” she said coolly.

She then publicly issued an instruction to whichever district was complaining about ballot papers to look harder and find them because insofar as head office was concerned, more than enough had been distributed.

Had that come from the mouth of a politician, the reaction would have been one of cynicism. Oh, there they go, being defensive and denialist again.

But instead I mumbled across the Ben Schoeman Highway: “I trust you.”

I had the same reaction listening to Brigalia Bam as, day after day, she reassured the public that the electoral operation was going well.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying the two women are paragons of virtue. I’m sure they have their shortcomings. And I am by no means saying they single-handedly delivered the election.

The point is that they are the representatives of a fine organisation which we South Africans have built. The IEC came in for an unfair battering from some quarters this week. Molehills were made into mountains and the extraordinary execution of the operation was overlooked. The scale of the Bryanston to Vhurivhuri-Matovha to Springbok to KwaMhlabuyalingana operation is no child’s play. One wonders — if given the challenges our IEC faces — how the world’s leading electoral authorities would cope.

So let us, we whine-addicted South Africans, give credit where it is due. Let us be proud that this week this nation of ours resoundingly declared its love for democracy.

But that having been said, let us be concerned about the continued racial cleavages that define our politics. If there is a story that is told by this week’s voting patterns, it was that 15 years into democracy we still make our voting choice based on race.

So no matter how hard the ANC attempted to win over white communities, their minds were long made up. The same applies to the Democratic Alliance’s attempts to make incursions into the African community.

Another concern was the necessity for the South African Police Service to deploy reinforcements to KwaZulu-Natal. Fortunately, there were no serious incidents of violence. But the mere fact that in 2009, there was still a need to avert a violent election in that part of the world is disturbing enough.

A welcome development in this election was the disappearance of many of the parties that were spawned during the floor-crossing era of the past nine years. That era gave every opportunist a chance to call himself a party leader and claim state resources as long as he or she could form a sedan-sized political party.

This made a mockery of our politics and resulted in the dilution of voices in parliament and the legislatures. After this election we will be left with about 10 serious parties, with only two of the opposition parties wielding significant weight.

With time, this number will shrink to about half a dozen, a decent size for a proper national conversation.

We also learnt from this campaign that intentions mean nothing. COPE, the new kids on the block, came onto the political scene with high intentions of altering South African politics and putting values and morality high on the political agenda. Having announced their noble intentions, they went off for some back-stabbing sessions and returned with self-inflicted wounds. By this time everyone was way ahead in the race and they had to limp their way to catch up. Seasoned politicians though they are, the leaders of this new party had to learn the hard way that starting a party and playing electoral politics is serious business.

This election also taught us the value of real campaigning. It taught us about the power of money, party machinery and proper strategy. Of all the parties in this campaign, it seemed it was only the ANC and the DA that had given real thought to fighting proper campaigns.

And of the two, the ANC had its story clearest. The party ploughed hundreds of millions (the source of which is still unclear) into the campaign. It devised new methods of campaigning. It re-invented itself into a cool and vibey outfit (which it will probably ditch after the election, returning to archaic Cold War rhetoric); made young people feel welcome; got the working class to believe tomorrow would be better than today under its stewardship; and got the black middle class to be grateful for their place in the world.

The most beautiful thing about this week is that South Africans — the gatvol, the content, the disgruntled and the optimistic — came out and said that democracy is the way of our nation.