Stayaway voters may have discovered what actually delivers - Businesslive

20 May 2019 - They are neglected by, and indifferent to, formal politics, but theirs is arguably the greater force, the real “people’s power” of individuals making demonstrably better choices for themselves than the democratic electoral process has proved itself capable of.

Michael Morris

The journalist in me applauded Etienne Mare, editor of online digital news agency Suburb.News in the Lowveld, for his impulse to try to vote more than once on May 8. 

For his trouble, Mare faces charges under the electoral law, but he did succeed in testing a reader’s claim, and publishing the results (showing how easy it was to rub off the ink on his thumb and, indeed, vote again), which is what journalism is for.

However, beyond qualms about the Electoral Commission of SA’s stationery supplies, there is something oddly ironic in the revelation of the apparent ease of voting umpteen times when the greater problem SA faces is getting people to vote at all.

This has earned a lot of attention since the election. One of the more florid contributions came from the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel), urging a “return to the foundational principles of the constitution and the promises of the national democratic revolution (NDR)”, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

Regarding the former, a good start would be halting the process of undermining constitutionalism via the erosion of property rights. As for the latter, the “promises” of the NDR offer consequences from which SA might well pray to be spared, as my colleague, Institute of Race Relations (IRR) policy research head Anthea Jeffery, explains in detail in the just-published updated edition of her book, People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for SA.

But Nadel also had this to say (and it sounds reasonable enough): “No longer do people ... view the democratic electoral process as a means of delivering social and political goods.”

That seems a very worrying prospect — either of apathy, which would drain the nation of vigour and enterprise, or lawlessness, which might prefigure a Hobbesian fate where the rules, conventions and finesse of reasoned argumentation give way to mobs and, inevitably, conditions in which, as philosopher Hobbes expressed it in Leviathan, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

Certainly, the undergirding of political dysfunction, whether indifference or fury, is everywhere apparent — unemployment now at a near 15-year high (27.6%) and violent protests up since 2004 by 268%. In a society in which political leaders have so much to do, and could do it, it is sobering that so few, relatively speaking, are willing to compel them to do so. The people do, after all, have the power. Have they really just given up?

Perhaps not, after all. If it is incontrovertible that South Africans are spurning the “democratic electoral process” for its delivery failure, could it be because they’ve discovered that the democratic electoral process is not actually the deliverer? We are not, after all, a collapsed society; for all the devastation of bad policy-making, unaddressed historical legacies and incompetent administration, South Africans are not idling, but getting on with their lives as best they can. It’s not enough, and for most it’s very hard. But we are not imploding.

The sum of the daily efforts of millions — despite regulations that impede them, policies that hamper their enterprise, poorly run schools and ill-conceived labour laws that cruelly narrow their chances, and stolen billions that rob them of better health care, policing and reliable transport — could suggest that for most people the “democratic electoral process” is not the deliverer, and that what counts for the majority is the amalgam of resources and opportunities they themselves strive to find, create and exploit on their own.

They are neglected by, and indifferent to, formal politics, but theirs is arguably the greater force, the real “people’s power” of individuals making demonstrably better choices for themselves than the democratic electoral process has proved itself capable of. In that may lie the real lesson in the ANC winning its 57.5% majority from a mere 26.5% of eligible voters. But will it be heeded?

• Morris is head of media at the Institute for Race Relations

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2019-05-20-michael-morris-stayaway-voters-may-have-discovered-what-actually-delivers/

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